Legend of sixties-era utopianism, Francois Dallegret and Los Angeles-based French architect Francois Perrin have brought their traveling retrospective of Dallegret’s work to the Woodbury School of Architecture-operated WUHO Gallery in Hollywood. The exhibition, Le Monde a l’Envers / The World Upside Down, is funded by grants from The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Canadian Center for Architecture, The Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec, and Dorothy Lichtenstein. It was first shown at the Architectural Association in London in 2011.
Using 1960s-era supergraphics and photographs, wall-hung furniture prototypes, and historical ephemera, the exhibition brings to light Dallegret’s ambitious and playful oeuvre, focusing extensively on his fascination with the handmade and the automated. Dallegret is most well-known for his monumentally complex and bubbly Graphos pen illustrations for Reyner Banham’s essay “A Home is Not a House,” a project whose popularity has seemingly eclipsed a much wider and considered body of work. But Dallegret has been consistently busy since the 1965 essay, having designed fluttering windmills for Montreal’s Expo 67, modular park seating and light fixtures for the 1976 Olympic games, and various light installations throughout Canada and France in the decades since. Regarding the start of his career in France, New York, and ultimately Canada, Dallegret told AN, “I was totally on my own, I didn’t read anything. I still don’t read very much actually, and I was just doing my own thing. I was interested in automobiles and mechanical stuff, so it all became embedded in my drawings.”
Dallegret’s ever-youthful, media-diverse, and experimental career benefits from the retrospective format. Perrin, curator and designer for the exhibition told AN, “There’s obviously way more materials we could be showing, but we made a careful selection [of Dallegret’s work]. It was difficult budget-wise to bring prototypes and original drawings, so the idea was to create a narrative through the images by blowing them up, so you are immersed in the work.” That experiential quality is picked up from Dallegret’s work, directly, as nearly all of the projects displayed relate to their use relative to the human body, from Banham’s bubble to a crucifix-shaped bed, to pack of cigarettes the designer was commissioned to do in his adopted homeland. When asked about the body-focused aspects of his work, Dallegret said “I was working alone, so the only guy I could use for my drawings was me. So, I used myself in most of the drawings and set ups showing the devices I invented and et voilà.”
The exhibition points to tensions inherent in social and technological change via the sometimes sarcastic musings Dallegret imbues in his work. His use of then-new industrial materials—the bent sheets of aluminum for the multi-use Chaise Ressort chairs, the inflatable rubber inner tubes and brightly-colored anodized aluminum sections in his Automobile Immobile car prototype—point toward new aesthetic modes rooted in industrial production. In these works, Dallegret seems to poke fun at the inconsistencies of his era’s essential privileges, leisure and mobility, by designing a lounge chair that does the work of two and by crafting a car that can’t go anywhere without blowing a tire. King of the French curve, the Montreal-based designer’s works are also marked by the sinuousness inherent in the plastic materials of the Space Age. His design for a restaurant called Le Drug from 1967 uses molded wire mesh sprayed with concrete to create bulbous and continuous booths and tabletops while stylized air supply ducts hang down from the ceiling.
Dallegret also makes extensive use of collage and relies on the inherent re-thinking of scale resulting from piecing together found images in a pre-Photoshop era to imbue his work with its characteristic insight and sass. His brand of analog, appropriative, scale-challenging aesthetics and conceptual approaches, like the Rape à Fromage tower, for example, which supposes a residential function for a super-scaled cheese grater, would certainly be at home in many of today’s graduate schools of architecture. For these reasons, there is an oddly contemporary quality to the work presented in the exhibition, a fact that is not lost on the still-active Dallegret himself. No word yet on where the exhibition heads after its L.A. run, but Dallegret has plans for a future furniture-related exhibition with new prototypes in the works. Dallegret’s retrospective is on view at WUHO Gallery in Hollywood through June 26, 2016.