Cultured Magazine

Winter 2014

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sadora Duncan, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, Frida Kahlo. These women from a certain age—the 1910s, '20s and '30s—had many things in common. They were free spirits, bisexual, brave, creative and each had a significant male partner: Paris Eugene Singer (heir to the Singer sewing fortune), literary lions Leonard Woolf and Henry Miller and artist Diego Rivera, respectively. And each of these women has been celebrated in book and on film. Now add their contemporary, Eileen Gray, who will soon be better known thanks to a new documentary, "Gray Matters," which debuted in New York in October at the 2014 Architecture & Design Film Festival; a soon-to-be-released feature film, "The Price of Desire;" a traveling exhibition of her furniture from the Centre Georges Pompidou, which was shown in New York at the Bard Graduate Center; and a limited- edition book of photographs by Julian Lennon. Oh, and it's worth noting that in 2009, Gray's Dragons Chair, an ungainly but extremely rare piece was sold at Christie's three-day auction of Yves Saint Laurent's estate for a record $28 million. Gray, who was born in 1878 into landed gentry in Ireland, discovered her wild side at an early age. At 20, she studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Shortly after, she moved to Paris, a sure sign in those days that she might become androgynous, bob her hair and smoke cigarettes. She studied lacquer and began designing things—from crockery to houses—that looked at once unique and inevitable. Her E.1027 adjustable chrome-and-glass side table has probably been knocked off as much as Noguchi's biomorphic coffee table or Le Corbusier's LC4 chaise lounge. And although Gray never trained as an architect, she designed several houses. Despite her accomplishments, for many decades, Gray wasn't credited for the latter—or recognized for the former. Outside of connoisseurs, her name was barely known. When Marco Orsini, the director of "Gray Matters," first heard about his friend Mary McGuckian's interest in making a feature film about Gray, he said, "I sure as hell wasn't interested in a dead Anglo-Irish architect." And now listen to him: "By filming on a Canon 5D and using a 100 mm macro lens, I was able to capture the tiniest of details— down to the different types of screws and hinges she specified to assemble her furniture. Similarly, I wanted to show the sensuous depths and reflective opacity of her gorgeous lacquer screens, tables and chairs…" In other words, he has become a Gray nerd. Her E.1027 house on the Cote d'Azur, "less than two kilometers from my home in Monte Carlo," Orsini says, was often misattributed to Le Corbusier. "What I really loved is that this documentary set the record straight," says Kyle Bergman, founder and director of the Architecture & Design Film Festival, which debuted "Gray Matters" on its opening night. "People confuse her history a lot. It did a great job of putting her into perspective." The documentary, which will also play in March at the Los Angeles Architecture & Design Film Festival, has loving close-ups of her furniture pieces, many of them from the Centre Pompidou exhibition, and explores the E.1027 house in its pristine state (which is to say, before Le Corbusier enhanced/defaced its walls with colorful murals). The house is currently being restored with murals intact, but the feature-film crew put up sheetrock to cover them. Orsini jumped in to shoot at the same time. What is surprising, considering that Gray was born 136 years ago, is that the documentary contains contemporary footage of people who knew her. She lived to the age of 98, and in her last decades, a cohort of scholars, dealers and collectors in their 20s and 30s tracked her down. "Some 30 or 40 years later, I was able to talk with them in front of a camera," Orsini says. The most significant talking head is Robert Rebutato, who was just 11 years old when he met Le Corbusier, who had built a small cabin on the Rebutato family property next to their restaurant, L'Etoile de Mer. Now in his 70s, Rebutato "was a tough nut to crack," Orsini says. "He has always been on the Le Corbusier side." But talk he did—for three hours—on the terrace of the family's old restaurant, "amazing stories about Gray, Corbusier and E.1027." Having seen almost everything Gray has designed, Orsini has a favorite: the black-lacquer block screen. "If you get a chance, go to the DeLorenzo Gallery, [on Madison Avenue in New York]," he says. "They have the block screen she made for Jean Badovici [Gray's lover and partner when E.1027 was built]. It's breathtaking. It's architecture. It's Modernism using ancient lacquer techniques. And it represents her shift into Modernist architecture." 102 CULTURED FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY This winter, EILEEN GRAY is being celebrated with no less than two films, a retrospective and a limited-edition book. BY LINDA LEE I

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