Her life spanned the majority of the 20th century and she had witnesses the phenomenal advances and transformations in art, design, architecture, and technology that came to shape that century. Eileen Gray was born in Ireland and moved to Paris when she was 24. She was soon discovered by French couturier Jacques Doucet and created for his new temple of art some of the most breathtaking furniture of that era. In Paris, surrounded by some of the leading figures in the French avant-garde, she made her own contribution to the modern movement. Picasso, Braque, Leger, Duchamp, Rodin, Modigliani, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo whom she met when traveling to Mexico in the 30s, and of course, Jean Badovici the architect and critic for whom she built the famed E1027, a villa in the French Riviera, overlooking Monaco.
She has been particularly known for the furniture in lacquer which she created in Paris during the 1910’s and 20’s in collaboration with Japanese lacquer artist Seizo Sugawara, and which she sold in her Parisian shop Jean Desert. She has also been known for the E1027 villa and its furnishings, but Gray was largely forgotten and ignored by those writing the history of Modern design. An article by architectural critic published in 1968 in Domus Magazine was the turning point. Shortly after that seminal article, her lacquer screen was sold from the collection of couturier Jacques Doucet for a record price. But it was not until very recently that Gray’s vision and achievements were truly discovered and she came to be regarded as one of the most influential figures in modern design and architecture.
A monograph exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, curated by Cloé Pitiot opened in 2013, followed by a retrospective at the National Museum of Ireland, curated by Pitiot and Jennifer Goff; two films on Gray, the documentary “Gray Matters” (directed by Marco Orsini) and the feature “The Price of Desire” (directed by Mary McGuckian) aired in 2014; E1027 will be open to the public for the first time next month after a long and extensive restoration project; Jennifer Goeff’s publication “Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World” was recently published; and another retrospective will be open at the BGC next year. Eileen Gray is everywhere.
I therefore called this event Eileen Gray, Why Now? To explore the sudden interest in the women who is considered one of the most talented of all modernist designers.