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View of “Eileen Gray” 2013. Transat armchairs, from left: 1926–29, 1926–30, 1930. Photo: Hervé Véronese.

Eileen Gray

Centre Pompidou

View of “Eileen Gray” 2013. Transat armchairs, from left: 1926–29, 1926–30, 1930. Photo: Hervé Véronese.

THE RECENT ELLEN GRAY RETROSPECTIVE at the Centre Pompidou aimed to elucidate the work—long underestimated—of a figure identified by curator Cloé Pitiot as a “total” modern artist. Indeed, during a career spanning the first half of the twentieth century, Gray (1878–1976) devoted herself to the design of a stunningly wide array of objects, interiors, and, beginning in the mid-1920s, architecture; she also experimented with photography and collage. This diversity of mediums led Pitiot to locate in Gray’s oeuvre “a conception and creation process that falls under the Gesamtkunstwerk.” Such a claim, however, is fraught. Both formalists and Marxists converged in critiquing the Gesamtkunstwerk (or total work of art), which was seen as distorting not only the processes of creation but also the relations of production: For Theodor Adorno, its fusion of genres and sensations

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