A new exhibition curated by Richard Malone imagines a dialogue between the seminal modernist architect and designer, and other Irish creators
Following a turbulent year with disruptions and setbacks, the sun-drenched French Riviera will welcome an exhibition looking at the legacy of Irish architect, furniture designer, and pioneer of the modernist movement, Eileen Gray. Curated by the London-based Irish designer and multidisciplinary artist Richard Malone, Making and Momentum: In Conversation with Eileen Gray imagines a dialogue between Gray, Malone, and seven prominent Irish artists and artisans.
The exhibition will debut at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin’s town hall in June, in conjunction with the public reopening of Gray’s E-1027, the modernist villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. From there, it will travel to Dublin’s National Museum in Collins Barracks in August and finally to Gray’s hometown of Wexford in spring 2022, a journey that echoes Gray’s own trajectory.
Malone, who also hails from Wexford, first engaged with Gray’s work through his grandmother who told stories about the innovative force in art and architecture. “She was described to me as a radical queer feminist who didn’t follow any rules,” he tells AnOther. “Those things still ring true.”
Citing her affinity for function, simplicity, form, intimacy, and sensuality in furniture design to textiles and architecture, Malone was first drawn to her artistic practices and interest in skill-sharing. After all, the widely-recognised E-1027 was Gray’s first foray into architecture.
When he was invited by Association Cap Moderne, the charitable body responsible for the two decade-long restoration of E-1027, the original plan was to present a conversation between just Malone and Gray. But the designer had something else in mind. “You can’t talk about her work in conversation with one person because there’s this huge domino effect and you have to ask people how it might have influenced them or what their thoughts about it are,” he says.
Among the names included in the line-up are the sculptor and Venice Biennale contributor Niamh O’Malley, ceramicist Sara Flynn, and Malone himself. According to the designer, most of the works featured in the show do not mimic Gray’s but rather reflect the sensibilities that she held dear. Pieces on display include a decorative rug designed by Gray’s protégé Mainie Jellett for Ceadogán in Wexford. The artist Laura Gannon made work directly inspired by E-1027 while Malone worked with Mourne Textiles in Donegal to applique traditional weaves.
“I don’t think people would put some of it in a show with her but there’s always a risk about making a show about just one aspect of someone’s work. I think she crossed so many boundaries fluidly so I think it would be weird to have a show dedicated to one part of it. She was focused on experimentation and creating something new,” he says, adding that exhibition layout will change multiple times in each location in order for new dialogues to materialise within its duration.
For Malone, there was value in celebrating Gray’s Irishness. He remarks how she identified as an Irish artist without ever constructing her identity through nostalgia or stereotypes. In the context of Ireland today, where political votes on gay marriage and abortion have signalled social change, Gray’s modernist vision resembled the country today rather than the one often depicted.
When the show arrives in Wexford next spring, it will be the first time Gray’s work will be exhibited locally in her hometown. “There isn’t a lot of design in Wexford or radical exhibitions happening there because people don’t think there’s an appetite for that there but I think it’s important to prove that there is a hunger for forward-thinking work and give it a space for people to come and enjoy it.”
Alongside the exhibition, there will be a series of online workshops, artist talks, and studio visits in addition to workshops with schools and community centres – Malone’s aim is to emphasise the significance of skill-sharing outside of academic contexts. “I wanted to make sure that people don’t feel isolated,” he says. “Often the language around good design, art, or taste, is entirely isolating and it’s created for people who have the money, means, and education to understand those things but very rarely are those the people who create any sort of radical change. People should feel involved.”
While Gray has been the subject of major retrospectives across the globe, Malone felt it was time to emphasise the humanity at the heart of her practice. “Her work to me feels very generous and spirited. We want to change the way people look at it.”
Making and Momentum: In Conversation with Eileen Gray opens at Mairie de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in June 2021. The exhibition will travel to Dublin’s National Museum in Collins Barracks on 22 August 2021. It continues to Wexford in spring 2022.