Thoroughly modern man: Demisch Danant reminds us of Pierre Paulin’s lasting legacy
It’s shaping up to be quite the year for the legendary designer Pierre Paulin. From Louis Vuitton’s realisation of the 18-piece modular furniture collection that Paulin designed for Herman Miller in the 1970s but never produced, to a monumental retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris slated for this October, it’s clear Paulin’s creative legacy is as poignant as ever, despite it being five years since his death.
This week, the New York gallery Demisch Danant offers a tantalising precursor to the Centre Pompidou show with ’L’Homme Moderne’, which features Paulin’s breakthrough works from the 1960s to the early 1980s. With over twenty rare furniture and lighting pieces on display, the show promises to bring a fresh slant to the design icon that so many know so well.
To set the perfect scene, Demisch Danant has transformed its Chelsea space with a stretched jersey structure, reminiscent of the Muebles et Fonction Paris showroom that Paulin designed in 1970, to present the pieces under. The construction is a testament to Paulin’s pioneering interest in incorporating fabric into architecture and industrial design.
’I think the essence of my father’s work was the absolute need for modernity. His designs make sense,’ says Benjamin Paulin, who manages Paulin’s estate together with his mother Maia. ’Some of them still represent the future since the ’60s. Between what seems to be a total liberty with shapes, you have to imagine a very strong desire of functionalism, with a drop of poetry. His uncompromising approach was mixed with a very rare sensitivity. I think that was the key to his success.’
’L’Homme Moderne’ not only presents different models of Paulin’s signature ’Mushroom’ series for Artifort (1960) alongside the ’Ribbon’ chair (1965) and the curvilinear ’Dos à Dos’ (1968), but also rare examples from his ’Élysée’ series, such as the smoked Plexiglass bookcase that was designed for the smoking room; of George Pompidou’s private Presidential Apartment in the Palais de l’Élysée. (Paulin was commissioned to design the whole residence in 1970.) There are also pieces from a 1983 commission to furnish President Francois Mitterrand’s offices on display, which demonstrate Paulin’s return to more classical furniture design later in his career.
’L’Homme Moderne’ serves as an ideal appetiser to the Centre Pompidou retrospective, which is set to reveal a large proportion of the Paulin archive for the first time. ’This exhibition focuses on almost every decade of my father’s designs. It is a very complete collection,’ explains Benjamin Paulin, who singles out the tables, chairs and stools of the 1973 Alpha series as his personal favourites. ’I hope [visitors] will be surprised to discover that he was not just active during the ’60s and ’70s.’