Thursday, July 23, 2020

Venice: Palazzo Grassi - Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu

Palazzo Grassi
Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu

Palazzo Grassi presents Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu, until March 2021, co-organised with the Bibliotheque nationale de France and in partnership with the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. Based on a project conceived and coordinated by Matthieu Humery, the exhibition looks at how the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) is viewed by five different curators, focusing particularly on the Master Collection.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Barrio Chino – Barcelone – Espagne – 1933
Wim Wenders – film still

The Master Collection

The Master Collection created in 1973 by Cartier-Bresson at the request of his art collector friends Dominique and John de Menil, for which the photographer carefully selected the 385 best images from his contact sheets. Six sets of this extraordinary collection of the photographer’s work where printed. This Master Collection has been examined by five guest curators: collector Francois Pinault, photographer Annie Leibovitz, writer Javier Cercas, film director Wim Wenders, and heritage conservator Sylvie Aubenas. Hence, there is no monograph, theme, geographical area or chronology but rather a comparison of five points of view on the work of the Eye of the Century.

Dimanche sur les bords de Seine – France – 1938

Le Grand Jeu - The Great Game: the title, reminiscent of chance, a theme dear to the surrealists, primarily refers to the artist’s selection. With various connotations, can also suggest recreation or leisure. Lastly, the concept can also refer to the set of rules to which one must submit, namely “to play the game”. But jeu – game - is also, a homonym of je - I - thus, like an exquisite cadaver, the ”Great I” exalts itself, firstly via the homage paid here to the work of one man, but also through the visual expression of the – Me - of each curator, which necessarily emerges from the game that they have developed.”
Mathieu Humery
chief curator

The Rules of the Game

The rules of the game are simple: the five joint curators were required to individually select about 50 of the artist’s images from the Master Collection. None of the curators knew the others’ selections. All aspects of the exhibition – the design of the layout, framing, colour of the picture rails – have all been left to the absolute discretion of the curators. Each space is therefore an exhibition in its own right that is independent of the others. The five curators freely give us their story, their emotions and the place that these images have occupied in their work and in their life.

Las Vegas - Etats-Unis – 1947

Francois Pinault - Collector
The Ordinary and Extraordinary Passage of Time

“I believe that a collection, or in any case the one that I have built and continue to enrich, aims to hold on to the ineluctable passage of time. The works and the dialogue created between them are the expression of life itself, its dynamism and passion. Cartier-Bresson is an artist who shows us the furtive, comical, and familiar aspects of life.”

Hyde Park – Londres – Angleterre -1937

“Truth, simplicity, humility: that is what characterizes the work of Cartier-Bresson in my eyes. That is what I wanted to try to reflect in the choices I have made. Undoubtedly, there is a link with my love of minimalist art. I love the fact that a lot is said with a minimum of means.”
Francois Pinault

Colette – Paris - France – 1952 


Spectators can walk through this ensemble as they please and create their own visit. I believe this is what attracted me to this group of works. I can choose from amongst the numerous photographs, creating an intimate relationship with them in a unique and moving experience.”
Francois Pinault

Boston – Etats-Unis – 1947

 20170918 VNF 01D AL_VF_SELF_PORTRAIT_iPHONE_045_D - Annie Leibovitz - © Annie Leibovitz – courtesy Palazzo Grassi

Annie Leibovitz – photographer
Seeing Cartier-Bresson’s Work

“Seeing Cartier-Bresson’s work made me want to become a photographer… The idea that a photographer could travel with a camera to different places, see how other people lived, make looking a mission—that that could be your life was an amazing, thrilling idea.”

The first thing I did was pick out pictures that had a strong influence on my work and were indelibly etched in my mind. The ones that mean the most to me are probably the portrait of Matisse and the photograph of the picnic at the edge of the water. They are in The World of Cartier-Bresson, but I picked other pictures that are not. Over the years, other pictures have seamlessly merged with the ones I was drawn to first.
Annie Leibovitz

Henri Matisse a son domicile – Vence – France – 1944

“I studied the pictures as a photographer, admiring Cartier-Bresson’s talent and his eye. An intuitive master of composition, he was out there with a small 35mm camera, working in a completely original way—framing, choosing what to include and what not to include in a picture, establishing depth and relationships.”
Annie Leibovitz

Irene et Frederic Joliot-Curie – France - 1944
Jean-Paul Sartre - pont des Arts – Paris – France - 1946
Joe, trompettiste de jazz, et sa femme May - New York, Etats-Unis, 1935 
Ezra Pound – 1971 

Henri Cartier-Bresson Bougival - France, 1956 - epreuve gélatino-argentique de 1973 © Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos - courtesy Palazzo Grassi

“Why these photographs? And what did the numbering system for the pictures imply? The answer that came back about the numbers was that most of the pictures were organized by country or geographical region. In any case, I used the official sequencing to pin the photographs, which I had printed the size of index cards, in rows on a wall of my studio.”
Annie Leibovitz

Bougival - France - 1956

© Palazzo Grassi - photo by Matteo De Fina – courtesy Palazzo Grassi

Javier Cercas - writer
An Imminent Revelation
"My choice was not at all based on esthetic, historic, or biographical criteria but on the sheer impact the images had on me, their simple visual force or capacity to intrigue me, in short criteria that could be considered instinctive rather than intellectual. Nevertheless, it’s true that when I was preparing the anthology, I realized that Cartier-Bresson’s work had a close, almost unhoped-for relationship with my own research, with my interests and concerns as a writer."

 Prostitues - calle Cuauhtemoctzin – Mexico – 1934
Brasserie Lipp - Saint-Germain-des-Pres – Paris – France - 1969
Alicante - Espagne - 1933

Matthieu Humery and Javier Cercas

“Past is not dead. It’s not even past.”
William Faulkner

William Faulkner – Oxford – Etats-Unis – 1947

“I immediately noticed an unintentional logic in my selection and I wanted to reflect that in the way the photographs were displayed in the exhibition. It is organized in the same way that I have always structured my books or music that I like—from Baroque music to rock and roll—or in other words according to repetitions and variations on the same theme, characteristics, styles, or tones that appear here and there, disappear and reappear.”
Javier Cercas

Lourdes – France – 1958

“The third point is the violence, above all the violence of war or revolution. Finally, the last point is Spanish reality, which for many had become fundamental for Cartier- Bresson since his experience of the civil war.”
Javier Cercas

– Popocatepetl – Mexique – 1963

Wim Wenders – film director
An Eye for an Eye
but in a new sense, not with that old meaning of “revenge”

“I had made this selection strictly from my own gut reaction to the Master Collection that I had spread out on the floor of my studio. These thirty pictures were those that had spoken to me the most. But didn’t they represent my own personal feelings, like a mirror, rather than opening to others an “understanding” of Henri Cartier-Bresson?”

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Prisoner of war – Germany - 1942
Wim Wenders – film still

“Now I can see much better what it is that touched me! Only now do I see that all these people show themselves to me (and to you, too) today as if we were in direct touch, as if “our relation” hadn’t gone through the lens of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Leica.”
Wim Wenders

Bruxelles – Belgique - 1932

“…but the mystery is that whatever connection there was between them and him doesn’t interfere with our way, today, of seeing them. There is a directness and immediacy that we might recognize from our contemporary photographic “smartphone” practice and from all these pictures we take without thinking of them as photographs, including selfies. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there is something in these portraits by Henri Cartier-Bresson that entirely defies the period they were taken in.”
Wim Wenders

Cantine pour les ouvriers travaillant sur la construction de l’hotel Metropol – Moscou – Russie – URSS - 1954

Sylvie Aubenas chez Mariage Freres - Paris 4e. Octobre – 2014 – courtesy Palazzo Grassi

Sylvie Aubenas - heritage conservator
Life Lines - Convergence Lines
‘Several things stand out in his career and distinguish him above and beyond his immense talent: his pioneering and intuitive understanding (right from the start) of the importance of exhibitions and books for a twentieth-century photographer, of organizing and reorganizing his work at crucial moments in his life and in particular eliminating images, and, finally, the categorical and concise manner with which he expressed his conception of photography.    Underneath this strict,
almost rigorous sense of organization, this grand bourgeois, this well-read man, lover of painting, this man who in his texts and interviews spoke more willingly about Proust or Cezanne than photography, this elusive character who knowingly cultivated some seemingly obvious paradoxes, constructed a photographic ensemble dazzling with lightness, empathy, humanism, and humor and who, with his Leica glued to his eye, lived through more than forty years of twentieth–century and photographic history. “

Coco Chanel – Paris – France - 1964
 Vigneron – Cramont – France - 1960
Alberto Giacometti - rue d’Alesia – Paris – France - 1961
Livourne – Italie - 1933

Sylvie Aubenas chez Mariage Freres - Paris 4e. Octobre – 2014

 “Photo shooting. Or taking a photo if you prefer. That’s my passion. [. . .] I wasn’t interested in the result. [. . .] shooting and nothing more.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson

Washington DC - Etats-Unis - 1957

“The more famous he became the more he expressed his distaste for fame, his total rejection of power, honors, awards, indoctrination. He proclaimed himself to be an anarchist, a libertarian, an atheist, putting his liberty and independence above all else. He expressed his taste for certain writers—Proust, Stendhal, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Joyce, Beckett, Gracq. . . —and for painters such as Paolo Uccello, Pierre Bonnard, Matisse, Cezanne, van Eyck… He had far greater esteem for painting than photography.”
Slyvie Aubenas

Dessau – Allemagne - mai-juin -1945

“Photography is putting the head, the eye, and the heart on the same line of vision. It’s a way of living.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson

Forteresse Pierre-et-Paul sur la rivière Neva
Leningrad – Russie – URSS – 1973

The fake Leica made by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s artist friend Saul Steinberg, shown in Wim Wenders’s rooms, continues the irony and reinforces the cinematic illusion of the installation. This artefact upsets what we see and believe, similarly to an actor dressing up in a costume to play at being someone else. Cartier-Bresson would not be able to shoot anything with this Leica, a testimony to the long-standing friendship between the two creators.

Saul Steinberg – Untitled – fake Leica – wood – metal - 1974



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