An Unlikely Mash-Up Combines Mid-Century Modernism With Louis XVI

You’ve seen it before: limited-edition, “updated” versions of the design classics we all know and love. Astonishingly unoriginal, it shouldn’t need explaining why no one really wants, let alone needs a “re-mixed” Eames plastic side chair or a candy-color assortment of Le Corbusier’s LC2 seating cubes. Such exercises often yield garish results, hardly ever matching and never improving on the original source material.

But what happens when you move in the opposite direction, from update to retrograde? A current exhibition at the Musée des Tissus et des Art Décoratifs in Lyon, France examines the products of a 200-year-old mash-up that mixes contemporary designer chairs with 18th-century upholstery.

For the exhibition, “A Sideways Glance,” lauded Italian furniture producer Moroso readily subject their sleek, neo-modernist wares to the strange revisionist treatment. The bent-steel, tubular chairs make for close approximations of the “icons” from which they so liberally borrow. These are outfitted with vivid brocades furnished by Venetian textile makers Rubelli; they were traditionally crafted by using an extensive weaving process that unfolded just a few meters and several hours at a time.

The patterns recreate wallpaper found elsewhere in one of the museum’s oldest galleries, complete with lushly illustrated scenes favored by the likes of Marie Antoinette. Against a muted tan background, fluttering doves sit perched on arching garlands, enrobed by rippling banners of cloth. Vertical bands of gold punctuate the figures at intervals, while stray country objects–a straw hat, ears of corn–add a general bucolic flavor to the composition. It’s all very “precious,” and pointedly so.

It’s this self-conscious attitude towards the project that makes it as successful as it is. The ham-fisted juxtaposition is surprisingly effective, so much so that you’re willing to buy into the admittedly thin concept. If you really give yourself over to it, the century-spanning dialogue proves quite diverting.SM