'Enchanted by Glass' sparkles at Chrysler Museum
James Finney | Contributing Writer
René Lalique was two parts artist and one part entrepreneur, a product of the times he lived in. A patented inventor and beloved designer, Lalique brought beauty into the homes of early 20th century France. His mass-produced works of art now line the halls of the Chrysler Museum’s “Enchanted by Glass” exhibit, inviting you into the home of modern art.
His works at the Chrysler present themselves, ironically, behind walls of glass. Lamps, clocks and paperweights that used to decorate French homes are now removed from the hustle and bustle of industrial era life. They rest in retirement, telling old stories of a man who wanted to bring art to a time dominated by functionality.
Lalique wasn’t the kind of artist who put paint to canvas or chisel to marble. His works didn’t hang in the castles of royalty, set in frames of gold and silver. His works were not precious gems meant to be preserved.
Lalique’s work graced the necks of upper-class women. They adorned the hoods of brand new luxury cars. They saw service as clocks for the office man. They lent a last flicker of beauty to cigarettes resting in their ashtrays.
Descriptions along the walls of the Chrysler, combined with displays of ornately designed pieces of home decor, show how Lalique went about his task.
Details are given about Lalique’s early life as a jewelry apprentice. He patented new ways to etch glass on a massive scale. His workshops grew into factories that catered to the masses.
Photos of his family and life project themselves onto the space between works of art, the only thing preventing the exhibit from feeling like an old furniture store or Jeweler’s shop.
Expensive and highly sought after works contrast with mass-produced household items to show just how pervasive Lalique’s influence on French culture was at the time. From his glass-made jewelry to ornate ashtrays that sat in the homes of every well-off family in the city, Lalique’s wares were adored by all of Paris.
Old posters and advertisements that were meant for French streets are now plastered to museum walls, advertising how desired Lalique’s work was. You begin to get the impression that you’re walking through the streets of Paris yourself.
It’s fitting then, that the last thing you see as you exit the exhibit is the photo of a gate. The gate to an estate, where a Rolls Royce Phantom III lounges, ready to see you out. Atop its hood is the figure of a woman with great wings for hair, ready to fly down the streets of France. Designed by Lalique of course, mascots and hood ornaments were pioneered by Lalique and his peers.
The power of a new luxury car, the comfort of the home space and the elegance of high society are all captured by Lalique’s work. At the Chrysler, you are not simply presented these elements, but rather you are immersed in them. You walk through the desires and trends of a long gone France, unaware that many of these everyday items have now become works of arts, worth thousands in the marketplace.
You’ve heard this debate before: does art imitate life or life imitate art? Lalique has a simple answer, and the Chrysler agrees, life is art.