Chalet Dallas

Conversation with Piero Golia and Edwin Chan

Nasher Assistant Curator, Leigh Arnold, spoke with Chan and Golia about Chalet Dallas and how they will adapt it to its new, vastly different environs in Renzo Piano’s Nasher gallery. What follows is a condensed version of their conversation, which has been edited for flow.

Five years ago, artist Piero Golia approached architect Edwin Chan about a project he had in mind that would combine architecture, art, and performance into a single, integrated experience. The artist’s goal was to build a sense of community amidst the sprawl of Los Angeles by providing an intimate gathering spot for artists that was luxurious and inviting, as well as surprising and provocative, and that honored the simple act of bringing people together. The result was Golia’s Chalet Hollywood, which opened in L.A. in 2013. Visitors to the space—the back-room storage area of Los Angeles Contemporary Arts Exhibitions (L.A.C.E.) on Hollywood Boulevard—entered from the alleyway to an elegant, sumptuous environment designed by Chan that also included works of art by Golia’s friends Mark Grotjahn, Pierre Huyghe, Jeff Wall, and Christopher Williams. Throughout Chalet Hollywood’s 16-month run, Golia curated gatherings of friends and acquaintances from the visual, performing and literary arts that often featured unannounced performances by musicians, poets, dancers, and actors.

This October, Golia is bringing the Chalet to the Nasher Sculpture Center for its second iteration as Chalet Dallas. With the help of Chan, Golia will reconfigure the Chalet for the Nasher’s Corner Gallery, completely transforming it into a lavish, alluring salon. Golia’s goal for Chalet Dallas is the same as that of its L.A. predecessor: to serve as a tool for community building.  In addition to the Chalet being open for museum visitors to see and enjoy, Golia will host small, private gatherings, bringing together people from across the rich spectrum of the arts in Dallas.

Leigh Arnold: How did the Chalet begin?

Piero Golia: The concept for the Chalet originally started from a conversation with Marc Olivier Wahler and my own complaints that in L.A. you never get to see your friends.[1] I thought, ‘The place should be so fantastic and special that — finally — people will agree to leave their homes.’ That’s why the architecture and art were so obsessively important. In the beginning I hated the word salon, because, to me, it sounds like five people sitting on a couch talking about un-useful theory. Instead, I think the beauty of the Chalet is that it was more than [just] people on a couch predicting the revolution or talking about philosophy. That’s why I say the Chalet is a tool for community-building.

LA: How do you two know each other?

PG: I think we should give some credit to Hans-Ulrich [Obrist], because I think when Hans-Ulrich came to L.A. to talk at the Mountain School he told me that there was this special person I should absolutely meet, so then we brought the students to Edwin’s studio and I think that’s how we met, no?[2]

EC: Yeah, I can’t remember exactly when that was, but it was maybe almost ten years ago. […] It was about that time that he came for an art fair in L.A., called ART L.A. That was the same time when Piero had just made that bus. Was it a bus or was it a van?

PG: A bus, but now I like the van idea.

EC: It was a bus. So in any case, I went to the art fair with Hans-Ulrich and he saw the bus and he said, ‘Edwin, you must meet the artist who made the bus.’ In some ways, we have to thank Hans-Ulrich, but also the bus.

PG: So we met on the bus, we can officially say.

LA: Piero, what made you turn to Edwin as your architect for the Chalet?

PG: I’m obsessed by architecture and I’ve been very lucky to meet many of the best architects. The Chalet was a special project. I needed somebody who could understand that we were not building just walls, but that we were building something way more theoretical. … Edwin, among the architects I know, is the most ready to approach architecture not as buildings, but as social models. And I have to say, with great arrogance, I was right. He really did it. That’s maybe my only glory of the thing…I really felt I made the right phone call.

LA: Edwin, why did you want to be a part of Piero’s project?

EC: There was no question in my mind that this would be a project that I would be very privileged to be a part of, for two reasons. Number one was my admiration and respect for Piero as an artist; and I love working with artists, so that’s a no brainer. But also, in terms of the way that he explained the project to me, of trying to create a space where the architecture and the art are a [single] integrated experience. That, I think, is a very unique challenge from an artistic, architectural point of view. In terms of my professional experience, I’ve worked on some large-scale projects, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris that just opened. But those are standalone museums; the galleries themselves have to be a kind of sanctuary for the art, for the lack of a better description.  So they’re white spaces, so to speak. The Chalet offers an opportunity to imagine a different kind of artistic space that is not a white box; where people are encouraged to interact and socialize along with the art.

EC: Now Piero wants to talk about Marie Antoinette though…

PG: I showed up at Edwin’s office with a picture of the perfect model we should follow in terms of the integration of architecture and art and it was a picture of [one of] Marie Antoinette’s bedroom[s] in Versailles. I think Edwin had a heart attack when I showed up with that picture, but I really believe, with great arrogance, that we achieved that level of melting between the art, architecture and entertainment. In reality, it [the Chalet] became this sort of perfect machine, because everything was fully integrated. I think it was pretty exciting.

LA: Can you talk about the nature of your collaboration?

PG: Both Edwin and I moved very far away from how we originally operate. In a way it’s like we both surrendered to a bigger dream. The fact that construction was so slow gave us the chance to question ourselves and reprograming ourselves daily. Edwin was very brave in accepting this way of working: going down to the field and experiencing the thing and feeling what the right next touch was. You see it when you walk into the space. You have this feeling that everything has been [done] slowly, according to the flow; people ending up drunk at the right place.

EC: I agree. We sort of thought it would be one thing in the very beginning, but as the project evolved, and through our interaction and dialogue, I think the final product is something that neither of us thought of. And it exceeded our expectations in that sense. So, it’s very spontaneous and improvised in that way. I think that’s one of the main reasons that I like working with artists: They would push me as an architect to do things that I didn’t think I would do before. It forces me to behave out of the typical character of what architects are supposed to do.

LA: I am curious about the physical space and the materials for the Chalet Hollywood: what you started with and how you got to the final product. And also, how do you plan to adapt the Chalet to its Dallas space within the Nasher Sculpture Center?

EC: The Chalet in Hollywood posed two immediate challenges. The first one was, how does one interpret the theme or the idea of a chalet in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard? Because obviously we’re not in the Swiss Alps. So, from the design point of view, the first thing that came to mind was the use of wood, and how one might use wood in a way that can be adaptable. That was how we came up with the timber, cut in a modular pattern that could be stacked into groups. It allowed us a way to put the Chalet together in a fairly efficient way. It also provided the opportunity, because it was modular, to be dissembled and potentially reassembled in a different location.

In adapting it to Dallas, we tried to maintain the same kind of spatial characteristic as in Hollywood, but gave it a different configuration. In Hollywood there were three distinct spaces. The design there had very much to do with creating an interconnectivity between the spaces and encouraging people to move and experience all three spaces at different times.

In Dallas, [the Chalet] is one space, one gallery. So, in fact, the design is the other way around. While we had to adapt the pieces to the gallery at Nasher, we also had to suggest clusters or enclaves of experiences within the larger space, creating intimacy within that gallery without building up rooms. So, it’s actually the reverse. And I was very excited by that and also of course, reinterpreting the timber in a way that would allow us to suggest spaces as opposed to using them as ways to divide up the spaces.

LA: Is working within the Nasher presenting any challenges? How are you going to make people forget that they’re in a Renzo Piano building?

EC: Obviously it was a great privilege to be able to make or to reinterpret the Chalet in a Renzo Piano building. And the great advantage of working in a Piano Museum is that the building is impeccably constructed. It is an extremely well executed building with a very distinctive architectural spatial characteristic. At the Nasher, there is this glass wall on one side. I was thinking about the glass wall as a kind of proscenium stage, so in that sense I think the re-interpretation of the Chalet in Dallas is stage-set like.

The goal, in terms of the specifics of the architecture, was not so much about hiding the Renzo Piano building. I think it’s actually very important to try to find this duality between the identity of the Chalet and the architecture of the Nasher. So, I think, we are hoping that our design — which is still evolving, as you know — will coexist with the Nasher. We don’t want to hide what’s there; it’s a question of building on top of it to complement it — to find a balance so that we can be friends, so to speak.



[1] Wahler was the director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France from 2006-2012. He is currently the Director of Chalet Society, also in Paris.

[2] The Mountain School of Arts was founded in 2005 by Piero Golia and Eric Wesley, as a tuition-free, artist-run school in California that offers invited students an independent program and prestigious faculty. More information: http://www.themountainschoolofarts.org/