Design at Large/

LAFFANOUR-Galerie Downtown/

LAFFANOUR-Galerie Downtown presents Total Gaz Station by Jean Prouvé

Presenting a Jean Prouvé Gaz Station: Following the studies carried out by Jean Prouvé, within the CIMT (Compagnie Industrielle de Matériel de Transport), since 1958, the creation of his Total petrol stations takes up some of his innovative architectural principles. Indeed, with the 'Maisons des jours meilleurs' for Abbé Pierre, around 1956, then the Nobel Tower, at La Défense, from 1964, Jean Prouvé continued his research on the development of structures with a central load-bearing core. Implemented in 1944 with the axial porticos for the demountable houses of the Sinistrés d'Alsace-Lorraine, this principle of central core construction was developed for various projects throughout the 1950s and 1960s (Maisons Métropoles in Meudon, Maisons Tropicales in Brazzaville ....). The new construction structures designed by Jean Prouvé, upon his arrival at the CIMT design office, presented a lighter architecture, in line with the research into new forms and construction materials. The circular petrol stations are built with a ground floor and sometimes with a raised floor. This light structure rests on a central load-bearing core, through which the electrical conduits of the entire building also run. On the front of the station, fixed in the structure, are sunshades which appear as canopies. This construction method will also be used for the construction of a semi-circular house belonging to a collaborator of Jean Prouvé.

About LAFFANOUR-Galerie Downtown/

Modernity and nonconformism are probably François Laffanour’s most striking characteristics, and they certainly help us to understand his, to say the least, iconoclastic artistic choices when he opened the Downtown Gallery 28 years ago now. A serious motorbike accident prevented him from sitting for the history teacher’s examination, but, somewhat haphazardly, he came by a stand at the Paris Flea Market—the famous Marché aux Puces. The time: the mid-1970s. He was drawn to twentieth century art in general, and the decorative arts in particular. At that time, virtually nobody was interested in architect-designed furniture. But this was precisely what fascinated him. When François Laffanour opened the Downtown Gallery at no 33, rue de Seine, in Paris, in 1982, he showed not only this type of furniture, but also the work of Jean Royère and Mathieu Matégot, because they, too, were decidedly modern. He swiftly realized that the importance of the work of Le Corbusier, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret had to be recognized, with an in-depth examination of their careers. This would be the brief of the Downtown Gallery, which would duly become the expert to be reckoned with in the field. There was, furthermore, nothing haphazard about the fact that François Laffanour’s choice came to bear, first and foremost, on these four great creative figures. They did in fact work with each other and, even if their work is quite distinctive in each case, they shared a common vision of their craft. In their furniture, none of them sought “beauty” as the ultimate quality, even if they were all sensitive to aestheticism. But beauty must definitely never hold sway over the utilitarian factor. Their creative approach was conceptual and intellectual, but never elitist. As designers and/or architects and/or manufacturers, they wanted to be people involved in a new, generous world, and take part in real social projects, such as Antony’s “Cité Universitaire” in the suburbs of Paris, and the city of Chandigarh in India. Unlike the quest for rarity and the one-off opus, they sought to maximize the practical side of furniture and its adaptation to its own specific uses, using wood and metal as never before, but never abandoning the quality of the making and the refinement of the details. These fascinating figures thought and created as architects and designers, craftspeople and industrial manufacturers. At one time overlooked, the rediscovery of them is largely due to the patient but unflagging work of François Laffanour, whose reputation has henceforth been associated with architects’ furniture. He managed to acquire the archives of the Steph Simon Gallery which, between 1956 and 1974, produced and sold the works of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, and was an invaluable source of information. Just like the Steph Simon Gallery, the Downtown Gallery exhibited Serge Mouille’s lights and Georges Jouve’s ceramics, which provide such a powerful accompaniment to furniture. Keen to spread the word about creative figures he admires to as many people as possible, François Laffanour was the first person in France to show Charles and Ray Eames, Mathieu Matégot, George Nakashima, George Nelson,

Isamu Nogushi, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, and Jean Royère. Each one of the shows he puts on, be it at his galleries or in the fairs he takes part in, aims to enhance the works of artists he holds in great affection, using both taste and originality, often within superb ephemeral architectural venues. A gesture, a thought, a creative sensibility, a certain poetry, the spirit of their time, all help to explain the choices made by François Laffanour with regard to the works of Ettore Sottsass, George Nakashima, Takis and Choï, whom he also exhibits, as well as the architect and designer Ron Arad, who has been represented by the Downtown Gallery since 1994. Today, for certain designers, the functional aspect of a piece of furniture becomes secondary, with artistic creation—Art, in a nutshell—taking pride of place. It matters little whether an over-sized steel chair is pretty much impractical and low on comfort, because it becomes a sculpture, but a functional sculpture all the same! This is indeed Ron Arad’s thinking in his approach to creative work, bound up with architecture, design and art. His noteworthy works, stemming from his boundless imagination, use classic materials like steel (involving highly technical and avant-garde manufacturing processes) every bit as much as more innovative ones, like carbon fiber, and they all have a place in the Gallery. In September 2008, François Laffanour opened a second gallery at 18, rue de Seine, with 3,500 sq.ft. on two floors, enabling him to continue and develop, in optimum conditions, his policy of discovering and presenting major twentieth and twenty-first century artists and designers.