Brassaï was one of the most prominent members of the group of European and American photographers whose work developed from the interwar period and revived the concept of photography as a creative medium. His fascination for Paris, its light and its daily life, made his photographs famous. Until 2 September in the Sala Recoletos Exhibition Hall in Madrid.
Today, 29 May, Fundación MAPFRE opened the Brassaï exhibition, which provides an in-depth exploration of the career of this famous photographer born in Brassó, (Transylvania, Romania) and who, during the interwar period, greatly enriched the potential of photography as a form of artistic expression.
This exhibition, curated by Peter Galassi, who was head curator of the Photography Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York between 1991 and 2011, is the first Brassaï retrospective organized since the year 2000 (Centre Pompidou) and the first to take place in Spain since 1993.
The show benefits from an exceptional loan from the Estate Brassaï Succession (Paris) and other loans from some of the most prestigious institutions and private collections in North America and Europe including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), The Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Musée National d’Art Moderne-Centre Pompidou (Paris), The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, David Dechman and Michel Mercure, the ISelf Collection (London) and Nicholas and Susan Pritzker.
Arranged into 12 themed sections, it comprises a total of over 200 pieces (vintage photographs, various drawings, a sculpture and documentary material). The first two sections, devoted to Paris in the thirties, are the ones that really steal the show.
Brassaï (the pseudonym of Gyulá Halász, 1899–1984) moved to Paris in 1924 to devote himself to painting, after having studied art in Budapest and Berlin. But he soon established a regular source of income by selling articles, caricatures and photographs to newspapers and other illustrated media, leaving aside drawing and painting, disciplines for which he still retained a great devotion and to which he would return at various periods during his life.
The city of Paris became the main subject of his work: its daily life and especially its appearance and its vitality by night. His extraordinary treatment of light and the subtlety of the details captured in his images brought him fame; with these tools, Brassaï managed to take snapshots that were destined to become cultural icons, symbols of an era and testimonies of his irresistible fascination for the French capital.
His work achieved immediate and unquestioning recognition in artistic photography circles as well as in the tourist industry and the commercial photography sector.
On 12 June 1940, two days before the German army marched into Paris, Brassaï left the city. But he returned in October and stayed there throughout the rest of the occupation. His refusal to collaborate with the Germans prevented him from taking photographs openly, so commissions from Picasso to photograph his sculptures became his only source of income. Also, and after an gap that had lasted twenty years, Brassaï went back to drawing and sculpting and began to explore his considerable talent as a writer.
From 1945 onwards, thanks to numerous commissions from the North American magazine Harper’s Bazaar, he returned to devoting some of his time to photography and began to travel regularly; Edinburgh, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, are just some of the places he visited during these years.
Going into the 1950s, Brassaï was already a fully established and recognized photographer. In 1955, the Art Institute of Chicago hosted the first of his individual exhibitions to be shown in an American museum, which then traveled to other North American cities. A year later, Language of the Wall. Parisian Graffiti Photographed by Brassaï opened at the MOMA in New York.
His work was recognized as one of the cornerstones of the new photographic movements arising out of the interwar period. It uncovered the potential of everyday scenes and retrieved the concept of photography as a creative medium, generating images imbued with the power to evoke a poetic and visual reaction that transcended its mere documentary value.
Far from emulating traditional arts, which was typical of photography from the start of the century, these artists highlighted the artistic potential of the discipline. When this tradition began to become celebrated in the seventies, Brassaï’s work was recognized as one of its prime examples, making him one of the most essential figures in the history of 20th century photography.
After showings in Barcelona and Madrid it will be exhibited in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), from 17 November 2018 to 17 February 2019.
More information: www.fundacionmapfre.org