The natural departure point for this process of reflection was one of the most emblematic objects in the museum’s collection, the “Artistic Crafts” goblet created by the silversmith Lucien Falize in 1896. This masterpiece was commissioned by Les Arts Décoratifs (then the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs) for the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900. Falize decided to illustrate the institution’s ethics with an iconography combining the skills of artisans working in materials such as wood, stone, clay, metal, glass, textiles, paper and leather. It is this symbolic appraisal of crafts and materials, which inspired the first classification of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs’ collections, that is the main theme of this exhibition.
Mutations begins with an initial confrontation between the “Artistic Crafts” goblet and its contemporary counterpart, “Corps de métiers” (“Trade Corporations”), by the artist Stéfane Perraud. Composed of thirty-two elements, “Corps de métiers” is a contemporary evocation of the state and future of the artistic crafts.
We are then taken through an experimental space comprising eight thematic rooms, each featuring a different material – stone, clay, wood, glass, leather, paper, metal, textiles – and systematically comparing historic works with their contemporary counterparts.
The historic pieces were selected by the collectives chosen by the exhibition’s curator, comprising artisans and artists with crafts as diverse as carpenter, leather craftsman, cabinetmaker, printer and designer. In the museum’s storerooms and in discussion with curators they chose a 19th-century caned giltwood confidente, an 18th-century chased leather mantilla case, a fragment of silk and taffetas dating from 1760, a flock wallpaper produced by the Réveillon company in 1770, a pair of 19th-century blown opal glass and chased bronze Medici vases, a silver and ivory perfume burner created by Daniel Jean Joubert in 1750, and a faience plate decorated with émail ombrant (shaded enamel) produced by the Rubelles manufactory.
These pieces then became pretexts for confronting these collectives with each of the fundamental concepts inherent in the artistic crafts. From material to creation, the skills involved, the object’s use, form, decoration and the evocation of the senses are treated as chapters in the constant mutations of the object and the artistic crafts.
Mutations highlights the history of the artistic crafts and opens a window on contemporary creation by providing references and keys to understanding objects from the Arts Décoratifs collection. These historic, material and technical references are treated as the basis for discovering or rediscovering an artistic heritage and demonstrating its continuity and possible future. The commission asked the collectives to research the distinctive nature of each piece and the spirit it embodies. The aim of this creative exercise was to create a practical and decorative object illustrating the kinship between an ancient and contemporary piece, symbolizing the evolution of the artistic crafts and embodying the importance of historical research as the basis for a possible future for these crafts. Rather than create an objet d’art that is merely a vehicle for an artist’s free expression, the artists’ and artisans’ collectives were asked to reflect on the evolution of uses, techniques and materials in contemporary creation.
Each of the eight spaces is a field of innovation, a laboratory of research and experimentation in which videos show the creation of the contemporary object, highlighting the indestructible link between thought and gesture.