Archive for category Subject: Art Deco

Eileen Gray – the private painter || Peter Adam & Andrew Lambirth

A pioneer of both Art Deco and Modernism, the varied and original work of Eileen Gray encompasses much of the history of art movements in the twentieth century.

The subtitle is worth further examination as it refers to an exhibition of her paintings, as opposed to the work for which she is better known (of which more later). The foreword by Gordon Samuel is slightly confusing on this subject, as it refers to what seems to be a current presentation, but doesn’t say where it is and refers back to another at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2013. It’s as though this piece was lifted from a catalogue that would have been at the gallery – and therefore didn’t need to specify the location. Seen out of context, though, it’s not apparent what is being referred to.

To some extent, this doesn’t matter, but it gets things off to a less than auspicious start and also leaves the reader wanting to know more – where can I see this, from the sound of it, rather comprehensive collection? It’s also a shame because the rest of the book comprises a well-made selection of Gray’s work that reflects her various styles and subjects. Primarily a designer and architect, she also produced a small amount of furniture. Privately, she also painted and took photographs and all this is reflected here. As the title and the preliminary material suggest, the main focus is on the paintings, but there is enough other material to put the main topic in context and explain its subject to a newcomer to her work.

Eileen Gray was an innovator in line, colour and texture and was the first designer to work with chrome, preceding its more famous exponents such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Traces of Cubism, Surrealism and de Stijl can be found in her work. Again, all this is a necessary background to understanding her painting, which is mostly in gouache and frequently combined with pencil and crayon and broadly abstract in form.

Something of a forgotten figure, Eileen Gray deserves to be better known, especially in the world of design and its history, and this book does much to redress that. It is, perhaps, a little confused as it manages to be at once dedicated to a specific (and, by its nature, less well known) aspect of her work as well as a slightly more general survey of it. Whether there is a sufficient market for the more substantial tome that suggests is a moot point, so perhaps it’s best to say that this is an excellent starting point. I do wish I knew where the exhibition was, though.

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French Art Deco || Jared Goss

Wow, I thought, this is going to be AMAZING! And it is. But. The thing is, it’s not a survey of a wide field exactly, it’s much more a catalogue of the admittedly extensive collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed, the original publication is theirs.

With the amount of material available and authorship by a former associate curator of the Museum’s Department of Contemporary Art, this has the very best credentials and is as authoritative as its pedigree suggests.

What we do need to state clearly though, I think, is that this is not something for the casual browser or passer-by but for the cognoscenti. If you know the background, have a fair idea of the breadth of material and understand what you’re looking at, this will give you all the detail you could wish for. However, if you were looking for an introduction, you might find the fact that the book is arranged alphabetically rather than topically was the first stumbling block. What I get from it is the same sense that I get from American as opposed to British broadsheet newspapers: very serious and wanting to be taken very seriously. At the same time, a feeling that they take themselves a tad too seriously too.

As I write this, I have the sense of being a mouse railing against an elephant. After all, who am I, a mere critic who, let’s be clear about this, knows very little about the subject, to criticise? Well, I am what I am and that’s all that I am (thanks, Popeye) and I’m trying to find a way in. Maybe I’m not the book’s audience, but then again, who is? Well, the book is on sale to the general public and especially, given its heritage, visitors to the Metropolitan Museum, and they can’t all be experts. In fact, if you made all the Art Deco experts queue up for entrance would they reach round the block? Books are aimed at a general market and have to satisfy the general reader and the question that needs to be asked is: can the general reader navigate it?

My feeling is that, good as it is, this is more of a souvenir purchase, a thing to know you have rather than to have for its own sake. I hope I’m wrong, and you may find that just browsing the illustrations gets you all the bang you want for your not totally unreasonable buck. A primer it’s not, though it also never claims to be one.

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