Pierre Legrain’s ‘Black Deco’: Primitivism and the French Interior (69485)

Session Information: Aesthetics, Design
Session Chair: Min Yee Angeline Yam

Sunday, 28 May 2023 14:30
Session: Session 3
Room: Room 703
Presentation Type:Oral Presentation

To claim that the haptic is critical to practices, production and uses of design is indeed axiomatic. However, as it concerns historically distanced objects in general and more precisely art deco, much of our attention has been paid to the ‘look’ – or even the visual feel – of the objects that populated the domestic interior. A significant feature to the success, attention paid to and the enormous sums paid at auction for art deco furniture remains the haptic; the attention paid to detail and the heightened sense of glamour and luxury that could only have been read and understood through one’s touch. In turn, I claim this largely overlooked haptic economy of art deco had a tacit racial dimension. This chapter, then, attempts to reposition the centrality of the senses, more specifically the haptic, and their association with African and African-inspired design within the complicated and fraught landscape of style moderne interior design. To do so, I turn to two unique chairs designed by ensemblier Pierre Legrain (1889-1929) that were integral to his larger interior design programs for fashionable, wealthy French patrons like couturier Jacques Doucet (1853-1929). Decoration, or ornamentation, and the lower senses (the haptic especially) have too often been deployed as ciphers of (sexual) degeneracy, the feminine and colonized peoples. Yet, collectors like Guillaume and ensembliers like Legrain unabashedly celebrated decorative abandon as much as the sensory potential of African material culture. The coupling of the haptic and the primitive here firmly underscores a cultural contest.

John Potvin, Concordia University, Canada

About the Presenter(s)
Dr John Potvin is a University Professor/Principal Lecturer at Concordia University in Canada

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Posted by Clive Staples Lewis

Last updated: 2023-02-23 23:45:00