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Eileen Gray gets her due with in-depth retrospective

Now you can explore the designer-architect’s legacy from your couch

Woman’s portrait in black and white film.
Berenice Abbott. Portrait ofEileen Gray, 1926. Silver gelatin print. National Museum of Ireland
National Museum of Ireland

Editor’s note: As the Bard Graduate Center Gallery remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gallery has launched an online companion to the Eileen Gray exhibition, which you can explore right here.

Eileen Gray is perhaps best known for E.1027, the late architect and designer’s iconic modernist villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, that’s wrapped up in romantic and architectural drama. But as an expansive new exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City illustrates, focusing solely on E.1027 undermines Gray’s prolific career in architecture, furniture design, lacquer art, and beyond.

Black and white photo of the side of a modern building featuring a steep and narrow staircase.
Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Fonds Eileen Gray

Opened on February 29, “Eileen Gray” is billed as the first in-depth exhibition in the U.S. of Gray’s legacy, presenting more than 200 works, including never-before-exhibited furniture designs, architectural drawings, and photographs.

The retrospective, curated by Cloé Pitiot, is split into five main sections that more or less takes you through Gray’s career chronologically. It starts during her early years in London where she studied at the Slade School of Art. The show then moves into her time in Paris, where she studied with famed lacquer artist Seizo Sugawara and started her own gallery space under the pseudonym Jean Désert, where she sold furniture and rugs.

Another section examines her collaborations with her one-time lover, Romanian architect Jean Badovici, for whom she designed E.1027. Lastly, the show looks at Gray’s under-appreciated architectural work, most of which never came to fruition but lives on through drawings, archival documents, and models.

A chair made with wooden frame and curved leather seat.
Fauteuil transat (Transat chair), 1926-29. Varnished sycamore, tubular steel, synthetic leather.
Centre Pompidou, Mnam-CCI, Dist. RMN-GP: Jean-Claude Planchet

“Eileen Gray remains fundamentally underestimated or misunderstood by most critics and historians,” says BGC Gallery Director Nina Stritzler-Levine. The exhibition aims to bring Gray into the spotlight, decades after her death in 1976, in the hopes that the sheer breadth and depth of her work will elucidate how significant (and often forgotten) her influence on modern design really is.

Take a closer look at a selection of exhibited items.

Two steel and leather chairs.
Fauteuils (chairs) for Tempea Pailla, ca. 1935. Nickel-plated tubular steel and leather.
© The Museum ofModern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
Cabinet made of aluminum sheets and cork panels.
Coiffeuse aluminium et liège
(Dressing cabinet in aluminum and cork), 1926-29. Painted wood, aluminum sheets, cork, aluminum leaf.
Centre Pompidou, Mnam-CCI, Dist. RMN-GP: Jean- Claude Planchet.
Lamp with an angular base and irregularly shaped shade.
Lamp, 1923. Lacquer, wood, painted parchment shade (replacement), electrical parts. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Gift of Sydney and Frances Lewis, 85.169a-c.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Katherine Wetzel
Diagrammed photo of interior with a bed, chair, and colored panels on walls.
E.1027, Au Cap Martin Roquebrune, 1926-29 from L’Architecture Vivante, no. 26.
Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris. Fonds Eileen Gray
A black and white photo showing a rectilinear white house in a hill.
View of the south façade of E.1027 from the sea, unknown date.
Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris. Fond Eileen Gray