Friday, 20 December 2013

Auguste Perret: Huit Chefs d'Oeuvre !/?

The life and work of Auguste Perret, one of the most important 20th century architects in France and Paris, is currently being celebrated in an exhibition that runs until February 19th 2014. As an added bonus, the exhibition is being held inside one of his own buildings, the fantastic - and still quite secretive - Palais d'Iéna.

I have written about Auguste Perret on numerous occasions on Invisible Paris, but it seems that the Invisible tag will soon have to disappear. Perret's architectural vision - perhaps most visible in the coastal city of Le Havre - faded slowly into unfashionability in the second half of the 20th century, but his mix of classicism and concrete seems to be very rapidly coming back into vogue.

This exhibition, which focuses on eight of Perret's constructions, is a sign of the current interest in his work. Five of the featured buildings are in Paris (four of these have already featured on the blog: the Salle Cortot, the apartment building in Rue Franklin,  the Mobilier National and the Palais Iena itself - the missing construction from Invisible Paris is the Theatre des Champs Elysées). The three other buildings can be found in the Paris suburbs (Le Raincy) and Le Havre.

Although original plans and scale models are very much at the forefront, the exhibition is also surprisingly light and playful. The buildings are the stars, but Perret here is a very strong supporting actor. As you enter the show, the first thing you see is Perret's head, with a slightly mischevious smile, floating above his monumental staircase. Elsewhere, Perret is seen joking on a beach with his brother, or in communication with artists.

Alongside the static displays, a film - 25bis - is also worth 30 minutes of your time. It stars the current inhabitants of Perret's Rue Franklin construction, but above all the building's concierge. Not the typical suspicious and unfriendly doorkeeper, 25bis is looked after by a hyperactive and jocular Italian man! The film is an amusing look at the life of the building, even if we learn little about Perret or a structure that in any case remains rather atypic for the architect.

Ideally the exhibition would also give the opportunity to look around Perret's own building, the Palais d'Iena, but curiously it is not put at its advantage for this show. Whereas Perret was always a great believer in light, here everything is cloaked behind heavy curtains. The way the exhibits are hung and displayed is also rarely clear and often a little confusing.

Exhibitions remain rare in this space - although it was originally a museum. However, if the building has gotten in the way of this show rather than becoming one of its central features - that should take nothing away from the elegance of the structure or of Perret's creations.

Note: the significance of the symbols in the exhibition title are not clear and are not explained in the show anywhere. They seem to suggest that there is still debate about the exact merits of Perret's architcture, but I'm still waiting for confirmation of this from the organisers!

>>For more information, see the official website:

Palais d’Iéna, 9 place d’Iéna – 75016 Paris
Open daily from 27 November 2013 to 19 February 2014 (11am – 6pm)
Free admission
M° Iéna or Trocadéro

1 comment: said...

Hello, Thank you for this article. I was not aware of the exhibition.
Will not miss it.
Marc Piel

On another subject: Do you know a set of buildings in rue Labie, 75017. I look out onto it and the unusual and interesting sculptures on the facades. Could send you some photos.

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