Danseuse burlesque (satyric dancer), 1926 – André Kertész – Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine / Dist Rmn © Donation André Kertész
A GREAT MASTER OF TWENTIETH CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHY
24 february – 17 june 2018
Whatever we have done, Kertész did first.
Whatever we have done, Kertész did first.
The story goes that André Kertész (Budapest 1894 – New York 1985) first came across photography in the early 1900s when he stumbled upon a photography manual in the attic of an old Hungarian house. This chance encounter had the effect of a revelation, spurring him on to a destiny filled with surprises and magical twists as he engaged in an artistic and formal exploration that made him a precursor of a new kind of symbolic and poetic photography.
His formidable career, which can never be divorced from his life story, is now the subject of the exhibition André Kertész. A great master of twentieth-century photography being held at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa. The show invites visitors to go on a wide-ranging, in-depth visual journey offering endless fascination along which one can even lose one’s way – and yet in the end still take pleasure in manifestations of stunning beauty. Taking this path it becomes clear how André Kertész’s versatile gaze helps us explore the magnificence of a period of crucial importance to the world of art. The turn of the twentieth century saw the birth not only of the historical avant-gardes but also of photography and film. Viewed from such an informed and open perspective, the work of this great artist takes shape, made up as it is of intertwined relationships, images and vanishing points that intersect with artistic movements, poetic thoughts and aesthetic revolutions.
Divided into five periods and taking in over 180 photographs from the Jeu De Paume in Paris, as well as fourteen rare contemporary publications on loan from a private Italian collection, the exhibition retraces the entire artistic journey of the Hungarian master who, in a career spanning more than fifty years, constantly deployed photography as a kind of visual diary designed to reveal the poetry that lies behind the simple and anonymous things of everyday life.
The opening section is dedicated to Kertész’s early years as a photographer in Hungary. The images on display celebrate the purity and simplicity of rural life and landscapes caught with truly surprising lucidity and innovative immediacy.
The exhibition continues its investigation, turning to what was undoubtedly the most successful and productive period of Kertész’s career, the time he spent in the exhilarating atmosphere of interwar Paris. The pictures from his French period are imbued with a dreamlike atmosphere that is both suggestive and deeply revealing, as it is in perfect harmony with his romantic and melancholic character. He soon joined the circle of Hungarian artists who would regularly meet at the Café du Dôme in the lively quartier of Montparnasse. And it was here in this stimulating environment that he came into contact with artists and intellectuals, in particular, his compatriots László Moholy-Nagy and Brassaï, as well as the painters Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall and Fernand Léger. Here the artistic exploration Kertész had embarked on in Hungary was transformed and he adopted a style that while realistic and direct still remained intentionally poetic. This was the phase of his geometrically composed photographs, cleverly created using lines formed by the contrasts between light and shadow.
The exceptional images of the French period lead us on to the American section of the exhibition and to what were undoubtedly the most difficult years of his artistic career. In 1936 the Keystone Press Agency in New York offered Kertész a one-year contract, whereupon he moved to the United States with his wife Elizabeth. Although he kept the rancour and frustration he felt at the lack of interest in his works at the margins of the photographs taken during his stay in America, a touch of disaffection insinuated itself into his poetics.
In 1964 this long period of torment came to an end thanks to the visionary curator John Szarkowski, who rehabilitated Kertész by dedicating a retrospective exhibition to him at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York that recognized the pioneering importance of his work. We now come to the fourth section, which focuses on the period of his international recognition. In 1970 his works were exhibited almost non-stop in many great cities across the world, such as Stockholm, London, Paris, Tokyo, Melbourne and Buenos Aires, enjoying enormous success everywhere. In 1977 his beloved wife and strongest supporter Elizabeth died, leaving a huge void in André’s heart.
The last section shows some colour photographs previously unseen by the Italian public.
For André Kertész, colour was a decidedly new phenomenon and aroused in him a spirit of curiosity and a desire for pure experimentation. The tones may vary from very warm to very cold, but the camera angles, the framing and the points of view are clearly the product of the visual experience Kertész had acquired over an extraordinary career.