Exhibition at Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, until 22 August 2016.
A grandfather of contemporary design, Pierre Paulin was the first to use to stretch fabrics; he was an innovator who became an institutional designer. Paulin's commissions included renovating the Pompidou's private apartments at the Elysée Palace and President François Mitterrand's office. What emerges from this retrospective at Centre Pompidou is how Paulin (1927-2009) modernised forms, often making them organic, supple, and playful. The sense of liberation in his designs corresponds to the quest for individuality in 1960s society. His collaborations with editors such as Meuble TV, Thonet, Disderot, and Artifort were key to his output.
The exhibition opens with Armchair AP-14 (1954), also known as the Anneau Chair because of its ring-like frame. Paulin reinterpreted this in his design of the Butterfly Chair. Then followed the iconic Mushroom Chair (1959), so-called because it appears to have grown out of the earth. Constructed from three rings, one for the base, one for the seat, and one for the arms, it was a pioneering piece due to its use of polyurethane. Next came the Ribbon Chair and the Tongue Chair in the late 1960s, the former evoking the nimble legs of a dancer, while the latter is a wavy, stackable chair that became instantly popular with the younger generation of design-conscious consumers. An arrangement of 20 Tongue Chairs, in black and white, exemplifies how forward-looking the design was. These chairs had the capacity to be utilised for a large group of people or to be landscaped into a public space.
Besides Paulin’s best hits, the show includes pieces that were never edited or that he produced himself, such as the Tapis-siège – a carpet with several rising corners that formed seats, or the Tente – a green, nest-like tent for interiors. What fascinates is the display of drawings, all carefully executed in felt-tip pen and pencil, which capture Paulin's 3D vision. As French artist Xavier Veilhan (who is representing France at next year's Venice Biennale) says, “His felt-tip drawings are beautiful; Pierre Paulin’s studio didn't look like a studio [by today's standards] because it didn't have a computer. Digital technology has changed the form of the [artist and designer’s] studio. Today, all the drawings would be made on the computer.”
Taking place concurrently is the exhibition Elysée Palace at Galerie Jousse Entreprise (until 11 June 2016), which is showcasing the pieces Paulin designed for the palace’s reception rooms from 1969 onwards. These commissions came about thanks to the initiative of Minister of Culture André Malraux, who, in 1964 and with the support of Georges Pompidou, established the Atelier de Recherche et de Création du Mobilier National [National Workshop of Furniture Research and Creation]. This heralded in a new era in which designers made furniture for the palace. On display are the creamy, curvilinear Elysée sofa and armchairs (produced by Alpha International and Mangau), a standard lamp (produced by Verre Lumière), and wall lights, all revealing Paulin's love of curvy, circular, elegant shapes.