A row over Le Corbusier's fascist links and alleged anti-Semitism has cast a pall over the legacy of one of the world's best-known architects and hijacked the launch of the Centre Pompidou's bold new retrospective of his work.
One hour into Tuesday's press visit, the elephant in the room was as conspicuous as the architect’s concrete blocks, and sure enough it came stomping out at the first question: “A comprehensive retrospective of Le Corbusier’s work, and no mention of the F-word?”
Olivier Cinqualbre and Frédéric Migayrou, the joint curators, had been expecting this. Le Corbusier is no stranger to controversy. The man born in 1887 as Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris is known around the world as a pioneer of modern architecture and urban planning. But he is also reviled and revered in equal measure. Since the release of two new books on his fascist links earlier this month, the French press has been rife with talk of his tainted legacy.
The controversy has overshadowed events marking the 50th anniversary of the Swiss-born Frenchman’s death, including the Centre Pompidou’s new exhibition, titled “Le Corbusier, the measures of Man”, which strives to highlight the architect’s humanism. The curators made no secret of their frustration, trashing the recent “tabloid publications”. Their five-point rebuttal appeared to echo Le Corbusier’s famed “Five Points of Architecture”, which spearheaded modernist design.
“The measures of Man” brings together some 300 paintings, sculptures, writings and furniture items, aiming to present the breadth of Le Corbusier’s work and thinking. It is undoubtedly a bold take on his oeuvre – and a vigorous defence of a man often blamed with inspiring the grim and alienating architecture of France’s blighted suburbs. “Le Corbusier designed terraces, vast windows and parks beneath buildings; you can’t blame him for what town planners later did,” protested Migayrou, one of the two curators.