Measured in relation to its historical significance, Pierre Chareau's material legacy is vanishingly small. The canonical Maison de Verre (1932), a glass and steel-frame residential structure in Paris, meticulously restored by its current owner, is the sole survivor of his mere five built works. A few examples of furniture pieces by Chareau are held in museum collections, with the exceptionally rare remainder secreted in private holdings, and the archival traces slight and scattered. These facts alone would have made the comprehensive exhibition at the Jewish Museum, the first in the United States, a feat of scholarly probing and curatorial muscle. But through the combined intuitions of the curator, Esther da Costa Meyer, and the designer, Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the show accomplished something more elusive still—something like an act of conjuring.

The brief flowering of Chareau's work took place largely in interwar Paris, suspended between two global...

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