Return of decorative art from the 30’s to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris


1. Art Deco Room
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Photo : MAMVP

18/11/08 — Hang — Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris — The director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris has brought back in style its very beautiful collection of decorative art from the 30’s. Visitors will experience an unexpected discovery in the new hang of the collections, a decision made by Fabrice Hergott, who succeeded Suzanne Pagé at the head of this institution more than a year ago. Located at the beginning of a completely reorganized layout, the installation of the art objects reveals the wealth of the holdings which remained for many long years in purgatory. Most of them had not been shown for several decades. Others, notably the ceramic ensemble, are totally unpublished. The great majority of the works on display were commissioned or acquired by the government from decorative artists after the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques of 1937, a historical manifestation which altered the hill of Chaillot and was behind the creation of the museum itself. The new hang, for the most part, is an excellent opportunity first of all to rediscover this unique building, one of the finest examples of official architecture at the time. Walls have been generously repainted, thus eliminating the unpleasant contrasting effects which distorted the unity of the interior. The reopening of the large bay windows which look out onto the esplanade gives the visitor a feeling of open space which had been missing, and the room devoted to decorative arts has regained its integrity thanks to the rearrangement of the mezzanine, until now covered up.

2. Art Deco Room
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Photo : MAMVP

The furniture pieces presented here are of the highest quality, signed by the greatest names of the 30’s : Jean Dunand, Eugène Printz, Pierre Chareau as well as Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann. This last artist is especially honoured with several exceptional items, including one of the rare examples of a chariot furniture piece, made of macassar ebony and inlaid with ivory and Cuban mahogany. In keeping with this opulent period for the decorative arts, the materials outshine themselves in their refinement. One look at the impressive sofa of Brazilian rosewood, upholstered in satin silk, created by Gérard Saddier in 1938 underscores the general impression. There is little sculpture among the furniture, except for a beautiful recently acquired work : the head of a Nymph by Alfred Janniot, who also did the two large bas-reliefs on the esplanade but strangely enough was not represented in the museum’s collection until now. The installation is meant to enhance the conceptual modernism of decorators then. The furniture signed by Michel Dufet, son-in-law of Antoine Bourdelle, the sculptor, is here to remind us that their work was contemporary with Mondrian’s abstractions and Surrealism. On the whole, in fact, the presentation is perhaps lacking in paintings, with the notable exception of two by Paul Jouve, placed in the background and not major works of that period. But this is no doubt to better set off the impressive gilt lacquered décor produced by Jean Dunand for the smoking salon of the Normandie liner in 1935. Purchased by the city of Paris in 1980, this room was brought out several times for major international exhibitions. There seems to be a deliberate choice here to separate decorative arts from fine arts by the team who carried out the installation. The reason was probably to avoid the pitfalls of a historical reconstitution, a bit too old hat and not really corresponding to current museographical trends. But don’t these utilitarian objects deserve to be associated with significant paintings from the same period — like the ones which make up the André Breton donation exhibited in the following room — to better highlight their modernity ? The question is well worth asking especially when showcasing a group of furniture with strong decorative and ostentatious connotations. In the mezzanine, the curators in charge of this reinstallation have however attempted a risky but successful venture : displaying the museum’s ceramic collection, of very beautiful quality and totally unfamiliar to the public. Produced by the stars of the time — Marinot, Decoeur, Daum and also Buthaud — these pieces reflect the fertile imagination of the decorators then, always on the lookout for new textures and effects. These objects might be well served by pedagogical signs, explaining the very specific techniques used here which are a mystery to the average visitor.

“My wish was to offer an enjoyable itinerary to the visitor, based on the pleasure and the rediscovery of the museum collections, and to also enhance the very beautiful architecture of the setting”, explains Fabrice Hergott. By reuniting the museum with its own history, the director denies trying to do the opposite of his predecessor. There remains the question of the esplanade, still in a lamentable state, which sorely needs restoring (see news item in French of 20/9/07). But over the past few years it has been in the midst of a legal battle between the City of Paris and the government. The reinstallation of decorative arts in the galleries seems to be a discreet, but open, invitation for a complete renovation of this very beautiful museum.

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Claire Maingon, dimanche 30 novembre 2008



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