an architect, Eileen Gray only built three houses, yet Le Corbusier considered
her one of his greatest rivals. Although nearly forgotten for years, her design
work is now eagerly sought by collectors. Leading the Eileen Gray renaissance
(also including a forthcoming dramatic biopic), Marco Orsini chronicles her
life and work in Gray Matters (trailer here), which screens
as the opening night film of the 2014 Architecture & Design Film Festival
in New York.
Eileen Gray was entitled be known as “the Honorable,” she was much more
bohemian by nature, attending art school well before proper young ladies did
that sort of thing. She would find her calling in Paris, eventually opening her
own exclusive furniture boutique. Orsini nicely traces the progression of her
art from ground breaking lacquer work to her iconic brick screens, which
ultimately evolved into genuine architecture.
was encouraged to an extent by her then lover, Romanian architect Jean Badovici
and Le Corbusier. Logically, the latter was an important early influence on
Gray’s work, but their relationship became increasingly strained, especially
after Le Corbusier added a series of unwanted murals to her masterwork, Villa
E1027, at Badovici’s invitation. Yet, the do not diminish the clarity of her
only designed two more houses, but their architectural integrity would be
irreparably compromised by subsequent owners. (Yes, it takes a special kind of
philistine to acquire a signature piece of modernist architecture and then
bastardize it beyond recognition.) At least Gray’s furniture and screens would
be rediscovered by collectors within her lifetime.
fact, Orsini uses the celebrated Yves Saint Laurent auction as the film’s
grabby introduction to Gray’s work, arguing the staggering sum bid for her
dragon chair might be her ultimate legacy. Unlike Pierre Thoretton’s disappointing
L’Amour Fou, which promises to use
the fabulous objects of the Saint Laurent collection as windows into its
subject, but loses confidence in its structural conceit in less than five
minutes, Orsini and co-writer Frederick L. Greene skillfully use her work to
illuminate the artist.
While Matters positions Gray as something of a
Simone de Beauvoir of architecture, Orsini never overplays the feminist card or
the potential sensationalism of her affairs. Instead, he maintains a connoisseur’s
focus on the work itself. It really is a film for architecture and design
enthusiasts, by architecture and design enthusiasts, with enough wider cultural
context and biography to keep more casual viewers engaged. Recommended for
passionate modernists, Gray Matters screens
this Wednesday (10/15) and Sunday (10/19) at the Tribeca Cinemas, as part of
this year’s Architecture & Design Film Festival in New York.
Labels: ADFFNY '14, Documentary, Eileen Gray