Eileen Gray Documentary Premieres in Tribeca

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By Patrick Sisson
A new documentary film, Gray Matters, does justice to a life less ordinary: that of design innovator Eileen Gray.

Premiering tonight at the annual Architectural & Design Film Festival in New York, Gray Matters examines the life of modernist icon Eileen Gray, whose work in furniture, interior design and architecture was aptly described as a "rolling experiment through the decades." Director Marco Orsini traces the arc of Gray's creativity and influence with insight from a score of scholars, collectors and designers, from her early years working in Paris to her extraordinary home designs to her reemergence after a period of obscurity. A scholary showcase for timeless work created in the dawn of Modernst design, Gray Matters provides a full account of a career once tragically set aside out of neglect. 

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Director Marco Antonio Orsini Interviewing Architect Robert Rebutato

Orsini's film deftly moves between different projects and phases of Gray's ever-evoloving career, though it does concentrate on e.1027, a home that stands as both a key statement and symbol and, according to Rebutato, the setting of a difficult story involving Gray and Corbusier. When Corbu visited the home in 1938 to paint murals, Rebutato says that he expressed a "desire to stain the walls," a statement many claim show the famed architect's envy and ego at play.

 

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Gray Matters Director Marco Orsini in front of a Corbusier Mural

The documentary, in part, explores the fallout from Corbusier's murals at e.1027, which enraged Gray but also showcased Corbusier's obsession with the home, which led him to build his own cabin in an adjoining lot. In fact, Corbusier died of a heart attack swimming in the waters near the home in 1965, and perhaps it was one of the last things he ever saw.

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e.1027

A symbol of both Modernist thinking and Gray's formal and graceful entrance into the field of architecture, this seaside villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, also represented her relationship with Romanian architecture critic Jean Bodovici, who encouraged her to explore the discipline. A central focus of a Gray biopic set for release next year, a target of Corbusier's envy, and a structure embroiled in controversy over a questionable restoration, e.1027 boasts its own compelling biography, with white walls that could speak to one of the more charged feuds in architectural history. Gray Matters explores the features and philosophies of this concrete villa, and how it relates to Gray's later buildings.

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e.1027 After Renovation

Dr. Jennifer Goff, curator of the Eileen Gray Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, contends that Gray's holistic design of this home, from the architecture and use of space to the radical furnishings, served to 'heighten the sense" of anyone coming through the home, creating a different world.

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Paravent Briques (Black Brick Screen)

This black lacquered screen exemplified her early furniture and fabrication work. After studying design in London and Paris, she encountered Seizo Sougawara, a Japanese artisan doing restoriation work who helped her master the technique. Initially working out of the bathroom at her apartment ar 21 rue Bonaparte, Gray utilized a time-intensive technique to make lacquered pieces for scores of clients, including a now-lost screen depicting the Milky Way with mother-of-pearl stars.

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Petite Dragon Table

Not to be confused with the Dragon Chair, a Gray piece sold at auction by Christie's in 2009 for 19.5 million, this small lacquered end table, once part of noted Parisian designer and collector Jacques Doucet's estate, is a bit of a mystery, the precise handiwork and fish scale patterns initially of unknown provenance.

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Pirogue Chaise

This sculptural day bed -- a transportive, buoyant piece referencing the canoes of the South Pacific -- was one of many standout pieces Gray created as part of a commission by the esteemd Madame Levy, who asked Gray to design her Rue de Lota apartment.

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Bibendum Chair

Zeev Aram, design patron and owner of the influential Aram Gallery, recounts the recreation of this key design, which he has under license from Gray and still produces to this day, during the documentary. His collaboration with Gray during the later years of her career helped bridge different eras and expose her aesthetics and innovations to a new generation.

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