“First, it seems important to me to recall Jean Prouvé’s cultural environment and his experience with materials. For he was exposed from his early childhood to the École de Nancy ( his father was Victor Prouvé and his godfather, Émile Gallery), everything in his realizations, even the smallest detail, was thought threw. “I was raised in a world of artists and scholars, a world in which I nourished my mind. But, I was a worker, so I had perfect knowledge of the work and the materials”.Because of World War I, he was forced to drop out of school and became an ironworker, after 5 years of apprenticeship. In 1923, he opened a wrought iron workshop (even then he decided to distance himself with a decorative approach) and was driven by a desire to strive for the essential. He called himself a “wrought-iron worker, not a wrought-iron artist”. He was both a self-made man and cofounder of the Union des Artistes Modernes at the end of the 1920’s, it was through his experiments with metal that the “constructive idea” came to him. In 1931, he acquired a metal folder which would enable him to realize his constructive ideas. this period that came to an end in 1954 when he left the workshop in Maxéville, touched me the most. And we decided to use this catalogue to highlight this period. At that period, Prouvé refused the steel tube technique which came out of Bauhaus. For him, the expressiveness of the forces showed through the structure of the bend iron and offered a dynamism that could not be obtained with a tube. He derived his inspiration from sheet metal, “bent, pressed, compressed then welded”.
Prouvé’s construction forms display an economy of materials and means. His aesthetic is an aesthetic of resistance, sometimes even exaggerated. Thus the lines of force, the tension, and the point of equilibrium tend towards a dynamic aesthetic. Opposite from academicism, demonstrated by the refusal to accept “aestheticism”as a factor of beauty, his construction work reflects genuine industrial aesthetic, the result of an ongoing dialectic between the design and the material. Furniture can be used to simulate edifices “a chair is made with four legs and a roff, it suffices to changes their dimensions”, hence the parallel between the Compass base and the kickstand at the refreshment bar in Evian. This symmetry between furniture and buildings is unique and induces a comprehensive approach. Actually, when Prouvé begins to think furniture, he thinks structure and therefore architecture, breaking down the frontier between furniture and building which gives him the opportunity to conceive portable houses, dismountable modules, marking the start of nomadism in architecture.
Prouvé faced a fight because he questioned to modes of construction and conventional materials. His quest in architecture was to achieve the highest degree of economy in materials and means, pledging to meet the needs of the largest possible number of people. In the end, this collective dimension was the real driving force of his research.After having promoted Prouvé’s work for fifteen years, it became necessary to produce this catalogue to present such an unparalleled creative experience. As a dealer, his furniture almost instinctively appealed to me first, because they constitute the initial elements of an integral approach. That is also why it was of special importance to organize an exhibition at scale 1 of his architectural elements, considering that each segment can be featured individually and has its own conceptual autonomy.
Too advanced for his time, Prouvé developed a hybrid using the most advanced technologies – from the automobile and aeronautical industries – and a quasi craftsman way of operating. For this reason, Prouvé represents a major symbol of the 20th century. Today, we have the opportunity to see how very modern Jean Prouvé really was. He led the first integral experience, bu introducing nomadism, urgency architecture, redefining the frontiers of our practices, our objects, and our buildings. All this makes him unique figure to consider as we move into the 21st century.”
Philippe Jousse, “Why Prouvé?” in Jean Prouvé, 1998, co-edition galerie Jousse Seguin – Enrico Navarra