Published: June 3, 2008
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is presenting “Ateliers Jean Prouvé,” an exhibition that provides a historical view of workshop mass production as practiced by the French architect and designer Jean Prouvé (1901‱984), and of the collaborations within his ateliers that took designs for furniture and architecture from ideas to industrialized products.
The exhibition comprises approximately 20 pieces, including important loans and works from the museum’s collection, accompanied by documents and photographs of Prouvé’s work. Focusing on the evolution of Prouvé’s “Standard” chair to demonstrate his unique approach to construction and his sensitive handling of materials, the exhibit is on view in the Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries, third floor, through March 31.
Equipped with a skilled creative team and the most advanced manufacturing technologies available at the time, the Ateliers Jean Prouvé were laboratories where ideas were continuously refined and adapted to produce furnishings and prefabricated buildings on an industrial scale. Many of the works on display originated in Prouvé’s first workshop in Nancy, France (1931‴6) or in those he established nearby at Maxéville in 1947.
The ateliers functioned as a collective: organized into departments specializing in certain phases of the work. As the ateliers became increasingly industrialized, they filled large orders of many thousands of units for schools, commercial and government offices, cafeterias and hospitals. They solicited business for both the commercial and domestic markets through advertisements in magazines and through their catalogs, examples of which are included in the exhibition.
Prouvé’s design and development of his “Standard” chair, first designed in 1935 and developed for production during the 1950s, relied on the frame as a main structure, with forces of resistance concentrated in a central node. Prouvé wanted the user to be able to lean back on the rear feet without weakening any of the chair’s joints. He cut and bent sheet metal into the fin-shaped tapered section of the rear legs to disperse stress uniformly through the chair’s legs and back, then applied the seat and back onto this supportive structure. Several variations of this chair are on display, illustrating the evolution of the design elements.
An avid follower of aeronautical engineering, Prouvé imagined that entire buildings could be industrialized in much the same way as airplanes and automobiles. Façade panel for Fédération du Bâtiment, Paris, France (1949‵0), is an aluminum and glass façade panel that demonstrates Prouvé’s interest in prefabrication. Rescued from the site after the building was demolished, it shows the advantages these standardized façade panels provided over traditional on-site construction: strong yet lighter than traditional building materials, they provided integrated glazing, ventilation, and wiring for electricity and telephones, thus speeding construction time and requiring less labor.
In addition to this installation, a selection of models, drawings and building fragments related to Prouvé’s prefabricated housing will be on display on the sixth floor in the exhibition “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,” which will be on view, July 20 to October 20.
The Museum of Modern Art is at 11 West 53rd Street. For information, www.moma.org or 212-708-9400.
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