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First Look: Eileen Gray

11 October 2013

In this ongoing series, Apollo previews a range of international exhibitions, asking curators to reveal their personal highlights and curatorial impulses. Cloé Pitiot, of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, is the co-curator of ‘Eileen Gray: Architect Designer Painter’ at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?

This exhibition is about Eileen Gray, not only as an architect and designer but also as a painter and photographer, a total artist. It is important that the exhibition is being shown in Ireland: Eileen Gray has returned home to her country of origin.

What makes this a distinctive show?

This exhibition looks at Eileen Gray’s work in its entirety, rather than just one aspect of her incredible career. It also explores her Irish and English artistic influences. As I am a Frenchwoman working on this show with IMMA curator Sean Kissane, an Irishman, the exhibition reflects the fact that Eileen Gray was both French and Irish.

How did you come to curate this exhibition?

The Centre Pompidou’s collection includes many pieces by Gray, and she lived in France for 70 years. We see Le Corbusier as the father of modernity and Eileen Gray as the mother.

What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?

The highlights include the black screen from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the dressing table screen from the Centre Pompidou and works from private collections such as the Siren chair and the Bibendum armchair. There is also a blue prototype table from the National Museum of Ireland that has never been seen by the public before.

And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

I have discovered what type of person Eileen Gray really was. She is really an inspiration for women today – she was determined, free spirited, very modest and also very generous. She was extremely positive and said ‘The future projects light, the past only clouds’.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

There are few pieces of Eileen Gray’s furniture and many of them are in private collections across the world, from Europe to America and Korea. She didn’t sign her work and therefore they were very difficult to source.

How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?

The IMMA gallery space is very different to Paris, but I decided to create intimate spaces like those in Gray’s houses. I initially thought the space would be difficult, but in fact the more modest interior is in line with Eileen Gray’s personality. I am now very happy to see the show in this type of intimate space.

Which other works would you have liked to have included?

I would have liked to have included Eileen Gray! After curating two exhibitions of her work it would be a dream to have one hour to chat to this fascinating woman.

‘Eileen Gray: Architect Designer Painter’ is at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) from 12 October 2013–19th January 2014.