Coinciding with the legendary French designer and tastemaker’s 86th birthday Maria Pergay is honored with a show at Demisch Danant Gallery that presents an impressive selection of her iconic pieces. Titled “Wonder Room” the exhibition spotlights a key element of her oeuvre: an intense engagement with the exotic and the baroque.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE “WONDER ROOM” Maria Pergay, through 11 February, at Demisch Danant Gallery, New York demischdanant.com
Maria Pergay has long been revered for her pioneering postwar adaptation of steel into disciplined but sensual domestic furnishings, many of which are now regarded icons of 20th century modern design. But throughout her career, Pergay has also consistently employed the most outré natural specimens, rarefied traditional craft techniques, and fantasy narratives in an output that suggests magical realms or cabinets of curiosities.
Her works can be seen as a series of wunderkammers rich with precious stones, found oddities, references to ancient Egypt and Pompeii, and surprising details that hint at distant provinces. Through major new furniture designs, as well as important archival pieces, accessories, and never before seen drawings from her personal sketchbooks, Demisch Danant’s exhibition will celebrate this realm of Maria Pergay.
The title of the exhibition hints to the fashion of cabinets of curiosities that emerged in mid-16th century Europe as displays in vitrines with multiple compartments. These repositories were filled with all types of natural specimens, art, and rare treasures in combinations intended to inspire wonder and stimulate creative thought. Much like modern day museums, wonder rooms told stories about a collector’s passion not only for objects but also for exploration and for collecting itself.
For this exhibition at Demisch Danant, Maria Pergay has designed five new works. Each single table or cabinet is a tour de force, housing through its composition and painstaking construction a selection of natural and hand-crafted elements, oddities, and personal memories. In the grouping of these works, the gallery space itself becomes a wonder room of precious objects.
Among the highlights of the show is Pergay’s pair of Cabinet Borgia (2016), powerful functional works reminiscent of Renaissance furniture. Each cabinet features carved black Gabon ebony handles adorned in precious bone specimens and hand-forged, ironclad armature protecting intricate interiors. The Table Galet (2016) showcases fossilized ammonite and rare river stones embedded in a stainless steel top shaped to mimic flowing water. And the Table Marie Antoinette (2016) is a luxurious receptacle for a slice of Marie Antoinette’s historic oak tree, originally planted at Versailles in the 17th century and felled by the epic storms that swept France in 1999.
Complementing these new works are vintage designs from the 1970s through early-2000s that trace the designer’s penchant for the fantastical and connect the six decades of her career. “I learned that one can live, create, and transform materials into poetry,” Pergay has said. “And when they speak, they tell things that are secret, useful, desirable, or mysterious.
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