The late Eileen Gray— who once said "I'm a great person and nobody thinks of my name"— is finally wrong about something. Her iconic E.1027 villa on the seaside cliffs of Côte d'Azur underwent an exhaustive renovation, a feature-length biopic, Price of Desire, is set to imminently hit Cannes, and, of course, there's even a video gamebased on her life. In actuality, everyone is thinking about Eileen Gray. Joe Sheftel, proprietor of the eponymous Manhattan gallery, is no exception.
By the standards of the Lower East Side gallery scene, E.1027 is a fairly small show. But, the admittedly reclusive Eileen Gray probably would have preferred it that way. The show's premise is deceptively simple—four painters are asked to reconsider Grey's legacy through the lens of her ill-fated villa. Sheftel doesn't seem particularly perturbed by the fact that only half of the artists were familiar with Gray's work prior to the show. Instead, it becomes a fitting nod to the erasure and subsequent resurrection that formed her career.
In fact, Sheftel's introduction to Eileen Gray was fairly recent. He tells us, "I was in the midst of a studio visit with Gary Stephen when I glimpsed a pair of paintings called E.1027 and Le Cabanon. In both of those paintings, there's a window, a wall, and elements of the story in it. That became the beginning."
Ostensibly the paintings refer to the respective vacation homes of Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier, but the story that Sheftel hints at is the lamentable friendship between the two architects. It was Le Corbusier who presided over Eileen Gray's fall from grace—professionally ostracizing her in design circles, defiling her home with an erotic mural, and, finally, unfairly attributing Gray's most iconic work to his close friend, Jean Badovici. Many critics attribute it to professional jealousy, while others chalk the whole thing up to happenstance. Joe Sheftel's decision to exclude Le Cabanon is an undeniable gesture of poetic justice for Eileen. He explains, "I was trying to keep the focus on her."
Instead, E.1027 relies heavily on women to deal with Le Corbusier's thorny legacy—reconsider it, conflate it with their own, dole out justice. Lily Stockman's depictions of E.1027's fauna and flora reveal an intimacy with Le Corbusier's work that has roots in her time spent studying in Chandigarh, Corbu's massive planned city in northern India.
However, the question of Le Corbusier's murals loom over the exhibit as an unavoidable point of friction and transgression. Joe Sheftel wonders, "Perhaps, as many critics suspect, it was [Le Corbusier's] deliberate act of violence directed at her architectural legacy." Rather than answer that question himself, he allows others to. "The female artists I included, especially Denise Kupferschmidt's work, renege upon and re-appropriate the aesthetic form of the mural and the body as an answer to Corbusier's original gesture."
The exhibit, which also includes contributions from artists Sofia Leiby, Graham Collins, and Mike Pratt, will run until August 5th at Joe Sheftel Gallery.
· E.1027 [Joe Sheftel Gallery]
· A House is a Machine for Memory: An Oral History of the Restoration of Eileen Gray's E.1027 [Curbed]