“It was an uncertain spring”, Virginia Woolf wrote in her novel The Years, published in 1937.

Our own spring of 2020 was most uncertain, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs has invited creators, artists, designers, artisans, and graphic designers who during these long, suspended months, never stopped creating, writing, drawing, or collecting. Mixing disciplines and generations, “An uncertain spring” reveals these intimate moments. It was a chance to pick up a pen in hand, reactivate dormant projects, create useful objects for the public, or everyday items for the home.

It was a time for questioning creation, shifting viewpoints, and exploring. The pieces on display are laden with personal history. They bear witness to a singular moment, warily passed, that allowed some creators to take a step onto forgotten or unknown paths. The exhibition is a dialogue between works that reflect the life of the museum during the spring of 2020 and the museum’s mission and role in society.

Antoine Audiau, Arcoíris, 2020
Gouache sur papier
© Antoine Audiau

From drawings to objects, manifestos to posters, the exhibition is woven into the collections of the modern and contemporary galleries. It fosters a conversation between objects created during the lockdown and other, more reflective artistic explorations undertaken during this long, undecided, anxious and creative period.

The purpose of “An uncertain spring” is simply to present this unexpected pause, a time for isolation, solitude, or reunion. Some worked in silence while others were surrounded by the turmoil of family life, but all have, through their creations, discovered unsuspected horizons. Those weeks and months were a novel experience for creators as much as for the museum and its teams. Since 1939, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs has never been closed for so long and so abruptly, except for renovation or refurbishments, with its teams scattered and separated despite the fruitful continuum of meetings and calls.

“An uncertain spring” also bears witness to that experience: the spring acquisitions committee and the meeting of the Cercle Design 20/21 which marks the annual enrichment of contemporary collections and the beginning of summer, were both rescheduled for the fall. Beyond a change of dates, it was an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of museum acquisitions while the world is in crisis. The exhibition is an invitation for collective reflection, shared by the members curatorial team involved with contemporary creation, design, graphic design, craft, toys, and more.

Pablo Reinoso, Labyrinthe 11, 2020
India ink on paper
© Rodrigo Reinoso

Newly acquired contemporary pieces converse with works drawn from the museum’s collections and the creations selected for “An uncertain spring”. The Covid-19 pandemic was, of course, a source of inspiration, shown by embroideries of the virus, a film about the impatience of objects waiting for the return of visitors, and 3D-printed visors for hospitals. But “An uncertain spring” couldn’t merely show pieces inspired by the coronavirus. That would have been too literal. For some, nature and life were a recurring theme; it was the flight of a butterfly yearning for freedom, a collection of pebbles polished by waves, drawings of tables set in inaccessible gardens, interwoven invading plants or a “painting” made of feathers.

More to the point, it exposes how creators experienced it. Throughout our exchanges, the museum had no special expectations, no required typology. Just the wish to show, quite simply, what this truly incredible period has been for each of them. With many of these creators being previously featured in exhibitions or their work is a part of the museum’s collections, “An uncertain spring” has allowed us to strengthen our ties to these artists.

Erwan Bouroullec, Tabouret, 2020
Wood
© DR

Disconnected by the virus from their production lines, studios and workshops, new solitary spaces became “a room of one’s own”, to quote Woolf again. These spaces became where some creators went back to experimenting, drawing sketches, building models. The hand took over from the machine, giving birth to woven colours, chromatic mirrors, tortuous labyrinths… As they sheltered in place, some creators were inspired by their children’s world, conjuring an improvised mini golf in the hallway of their house, or revisiting an alphabet in colour.

Throughout the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, traces and moments of this “uncertain spring” offer a light-handed, touching, often infra-thin itinerary, with no lessons to give or preconceived anticipations, and avoiding the hasty conclusions that so many would like to draw about the world of “after”.