Remembering Maria Pergay
October 28, 1930 - October 31, 2023
Demisch Danant is deeply saddened to announce the passing of pioneering artist and designer, Maria Pergay, on October 31 at age 93.
Born in 1930 in what is now Moldova, Maria Pergay spent most of her life in France. When she began her career in the 1950s, post-war modernism was energetically accelerating in the country. In the midst of this moment, when interiors and furniture focused largely on function, and classical decoration was being relegated to the past, Maria Pergay’s early designs came to life. Born with a sensitivity to luxury, her furniture and objects fulfilled curiosities far from the norms of the time.
As her creativity sparked, she began experimenting with silver, creating ornate metal elements for window displays in Paris’ most fashionable boutiques, and soon producing a complete collection of distinct, contemporary pieces in the late 1950s. The remarkable uniqueness of these silver objects set the tone for a lifelong tendency to challenge current trends and work outside the boundaries of her contemporaries. In addition, Maria Pergay’s silver work functioned as a catalyst for her innovative works made of stainless steel. Her pioneering use of this material not only became her trademark, but also changed the face of French decoration in the 1970s.
Suzanne Demisch and Stéphane Danant first happened upon her work at a Paris flea market in the late 1990s—years before founding Demisch Danant. They immediately sensed that they had just discovered someone exceptional, who deserved to be recognized. Urged by their instinct and personal curiosity, they researched and gathered as much information as they could in the pages of French magazines, Maison et Jardin and L'ŒIL, studying how to identify her œuvre.
As a mother of four without formal training particular to furniture, nor any outside support, Maria Pergay pursued her creative instincts working relatively alone. Drawing from a multitude of sources, she was inspired by antiquity, Japanese art and the innate nature of her materials—conjuring a voice so individual that many of her pieces would not receive acclaim until years after they were created. Much like Eileen Gray, whose genius was also widely neglected because of her gender, Maria Pergay created for her own pleasure—exhibiting and selling to clients, while quietly receiving important private commissions.
After a decade of collecting Maria Pergay’s works, a significant moment for Suzanne Demisch and Stéphane Danant was the acquisition in 2000 of an original Ring Chair, or Chaise Anneaux, from 1968—one of her very first furniture concepts and one of only fifty made, rendered in stainless steel. In 2004, the duo decided to get in touch with the designer, not knowing if it would be possible. After months spent combing through the telephone directory and calling the various Pergays that were listed, they ultimately were connected to her through a relative. An initial meeting at a café in France led to an invitation to visit her home in the port city of Essaouira, Morocco. There, Suzanne Demisch spent ten days speaking with Maria Pergay about her life and work.
I learned about her architecture commissions for the Saudi royal family, residences and restaurants designed in Moscow, and private commissions for clients including Christian Dior, Givenchy, and Hermès. We also talked about possibilities for the future. When other dealers had previously approached her, they were interested in reissuing her past works, but she wanted to create something new, energized in part by this new generation interested in her work. She recounted how her friend, the late art historian and critic, Patrick Favardin, told her, “Would Yves Saint Laurent redo his 1972 collection?”. This was the beginning of a lifelong bond and collaboration between us.
The pivotal exhibition New Work opened at Demisch Danant in collaboration with Lehmann Maupin Gallery in 2006, the outcome of the years of in-depth research, conversation, and friendship between Suzanne Demisch, Stéphane Danant, and Maria Pergay. Her first exhibition in New York in more than thirty years, New Work presented a groundbreaking body of fifteen new pieces including Flying Shelf (2005), Untitled (Tiger Table) 2005, and Drape Cabinet (2005)—the first of the new works to be prototyped. Through the years and on the occasion of various solo and group exhibitions, Demisch Danant has presented historic pieces from the 1950s onward. The ongoing collection and exhibition of past and present works has brought a new depth of understanding to Maria Pergay’s œuvre that continues to reveal itself to this day.
Maria Pergay never belonged to a distinct design movement or group of designers. She was a free-spirited individual, content with indulging in the framework of her own imagination rather than the influences of her contemporaries. When questioned, she refused to be designated solely as an artist, designer or decorator, but described herself as a servant to her own creative impulses, particularly as a “captor of ideas.”
Despite the absence of a calculated artistic agenda, retrospect makes clear the consistent core vision maintained by Maria Pergay throughout her career. She worked in broad strokes, concentrating on the physicality of ideas rather than the details. She introduced and revisited materials and motifs—not with a sense of repetition—but rather as manifestations of her creative vocabulary. She was among a handful of designers of her generation who worked with fervor throughout their entire life—a remarkable accomplishment. Her enthusiasm was undeniable and her creative flow was unstoppable.
Suzanne Demisch and Stéphane Danant’s meeting with Maria Pergay was a crucial moment in their lives that not only shaped the trajectory of the gallery and their understanding of their role as dealers, but also forged an enduring familial tie with one of the most singular visionaries of the 20th and 21st centuries. Through their work with Demisch Danant, they take immense pride in their ongoing dedication to reposition Maria Pergay rightfully within the canon, perpetuating and honoring her legacy.
–Suzanne Demisch and Stéphane Danant
New York, NY, November 7, 2023