Imagine sitting in avant-garde style in Paris between 1951 and 1961, while France is in the midst of what would become known as “les trente glorieuses,” thirty glorious years of prosperity following WWII.
Imagine being invited into the home of modernists living behind 17th- and 18th-century facades in the Saint Germain Quarter, behind 19th-century facades near the Opera, behind early 20th-century facades near the Bois de Boulogne, studying the cover of a vinyl record while listening, perhaps with stereophonic sound, to Duke Ellington or Gilbert Bécaud or Sydney Bechet, maybe Miles Davis playing on a three-track stereo tape,
or stretching out to read Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus or Alain Robbe-Grillet or Elle.
Imagine sitting in the living room of certain members of the comfortable class of la bonne bourgeoisie, looking to break with the 18th-century originals and copies that signified sophistication in the homes of their parents, debating whether to open dad’s 1949 Burgundy or Bordeaux, and if the Bordeaux then the Chateau Latour or the Chateau Petrus,
or facing a television set in the living room tuned to the single channel of Télévision Française, or discussing the politics of the flailing Fourth Republic and then of Charles de Gaulle’s return from the desert to take the reins of the Fifth.
Pascal Cuisiner, owner of the Galerie Pascal Cuisinier, invites visitors to take a seat, or at least a view of a seat, in the lap of years 1951 to 1961 through an exceptional collection of 100 chairs, armchairs, sofas and other seating from what he calls “the first modern French designers.” He uses the term to refer to those born around 1925 and 1930 who were among the first to design furniture for mass production. Mass production for these designers during the hinge years 1951 to 1961 often meant production in small series, hence the uniqueness of Cuisinier’s collection.
The exhibition “100 sièges français” runs Sept. 6 to Oct. 15, 2014 at two locations: at Cuisinier’s namesake gallery in the 6th arrondissement and at the Jean-Michel Wilmotte Exhibition Space in the Marais, the larger, more attractive setting of the two.
During an interview at the latter, Cuisinier speaks of his role, as gallery owner, in “defending a concept, a designer, a style,” ensuring an expertise for his clientele of collectors, decorators and individuals in tune with the aesthetics of the period from 1951 to 1961.
That’s a period when aspects such as tubular metal legs, flat springs and the use of latex foam and elastic strapping were considered ultra-modern or avant-gardist.
“Taken together,” he notes, “they represent one of the most radical departures from tradition ever seen in the history of furniture design, both in France and the world over.”
Citing René-Jean Caillette, Genevieve Dangles and Christrian Defrance, Pierre Guariche, Joseph-André Motte, Pierre Paulin and designers from the Atelier de Recherches Plastiques (ARP), Cuisinier says that many of the designers whose work interests him would go on to become well-known in the 1960s and 1970s and to run major design agencies.
Residents of and visitors to Paris are likely familiar with the work, if not the name, of Motte (1925-2013), who designed the brightly colored molded chairs that began to replace the old wooden benches in many metro stations in 1973.
Cuisinier typically holds two 6-week exhibitions each year in his gallery while otherwise showing a sample of assorted furnishings from the period of his focus in his gallery.
Wondering what to wear, Mesdemoiselles, Mesdames, while sitting your imagined chair on the Left Bank or on the Right? See this video about the exhibition about the “New Look” and the emergence of ready-to-wear at the Palais Galliera, the City of Paris’s Fashion Museum, running July 12 to Nov. 5, 2014.
Galerie Pascale Cuisinier, 13 rue de Seine, 6th arr. Open Mon.-Sat. 10am-7pm. Tel. 07 43 54 34 61.
Jean-Michel Wilmotte Exhibition Space, 9 rue du Roi Doré, 3rd arr. Open Mon.-Sat. 10am-7pm.
Palais Galliera, 10 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 16th arr. Open Tues.-Sun., 10am-6pm, until 9pm on Thurs.
© 2014, Gary Lee Kraut