August 7, 2010

Photographic Modernity Prague Paris Barcelona – Exhibition by the MNAC

Photography Exhibition

Prague, Paris, Barcelona
Photographic Modernity from 1918 to 1948

MNAC. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Through September 12, 2010


Photographic Modernity from 1918 to 1948 at MNAC, Barcelona

© Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Courtesy of MNAC


Prague, Paris, Barcelona. Photographic Modernity  from 1918  to 1948 explores the  experimental  fertility  that  characterised  the  photography  of  the  artistic vanguard,  bringing  together  some  of  the  most  important  works  by  the  key photographers active  in  those  important centres of European culture between the World Wars.  The  artistic  revolution  that  took  place  in  Prague  and  Paris during  this period arrived  in Catalonia  in  the mid-1920s, when photographers like  Pere  Català  Pic,  Emili  Godes,  Josep  Sala  and  Josep  Masana  began  to experiment  with  the  possibilities  of  photography  with  great  success.  The exhibition  presents  170  photographs,  documents  and  films  illustrating  the technical, creative and formal innovations developed by these photographers. 

From  the  end  of  the  XIXth  Century  to  the  outbreak  of  the  First  World  War, photography evolved a step behind  the  innovations  taking place  in painting, despite efforts to elevate the discipline to the status of art and to fight against the perception that  photography was merely  a  simple, mechanical  reproduction  of  reality.  In  fact, photography did not manage  to  liberate  itself  from  the  shadow of painting until  the period  between  the  wars,  a  moment  of  great  experimental  progress  in  all  artistic disciplines.  In  the  classrooms  of  the  revolutionary  Bauhaus  school  in  Germany around 1920, a new cultural space emerged, within which  the  foundation  for a New Photography was  conceived. This approach argued  for a new  type of photography that  intensified  the  gaze  of  the  spectator,  allowing  a  vision  of  the  world  without prejudice, definitively liberated from painting. Photography had emerged as an artistic discipline  in  itself.  The  New  Photography  experimented  with  a  range  of  technical, creative  and  formal  innovations,  incorporating  abstract  photograms,  the  addition  of typography,  negative  copies  and  solarizations  to  their  work.  From  that  moment onwards, photography became an active participant  in  the artistic vanguard  in all  its incarnations:  new  subjectivity,  Constructivism,  abstractionism,  social  criticism  and Surrealism. 

The appearance of this new photography had a significant impact in central Europe, above all  in countries  like Germany. Throughout the 1920s, Berlin was  the centre of European  photographic  modernity.  However,  the  economic  disaster  of  1929,  the following  political  crisis  and  the  arrival  of  Nazism  displaced  the  activities  of  these pioneering photographers to France.

Paris became the meeting place for intellectuals and  artists  from  all  corners  of  the  world,  who,  through  their  creative  endeavours, transformed  the  capital  by  the  Seine  into  the  centre  of  artistic  experimentation;  a cultural  hotspot  that  continued  to  thrive  throughout  the  1930s.  The  creation  of specialist  or  general  magazines  illustrated  with  photographs  using  the  latest innovations contributed in great measure to a wider awareness of this growing artistic revolution. This medium helped to attract the attention of the most innovative artistic circles and led to the birth of the first salons dedicated exclusively  to discussing this new  artistic  activity.  Soon,  the  critics  also  began  to  take  notice  of  the  latest tendencies  in photgraphy. The combination of all  these  factors  led  to  the birth of a generation  of  collectors  who  encouraged  a  new  market  for  photography  and,  in response  to  this  development,  the  first  galleries  dedicated  to  the  sales  of photographic  works  came  into  existence. Photographers  from  around  the  world made their way to Paris, attracted by this new circuit of galleries, salons, magazines, illustrated books and advertising, further enriching the cultural life of the city. 

With the creation of a democratic Czechoslovakia in 1918, Prague became a focus of Modernism,  attracting  the  participation  of many  painters  and  sculptors. Among  the photographers who  played  a  role  in making  the  city  an  important  centre  of  artistic innovation, and whose works we find in this exhibition, were Josef Bartuska, Ladislav Berka, Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rössler, Josep Sudek, Karel Teige and Eugen Wiskovský.

Catalonia was interested in the art of photography form its origins. In fact, Barcelona was one of the first cities in the world to be photographed in 1839.  The  artistic vanguards were welcomed in Catalonia as a new way of understanding the world. In the  field  of  photography  the  new  photographers  were  introduced  through  cultural publications  like D’Ací i d’Allá, published between 1918 and 1936, and  in  illustrated magazines from around Europe.The artistic model proposed by the Bauhaus, which encouraged  an  integrated  vision  of  art  that  could  cross  over  into  other  cultural spheres,  took  the art of photography  into areas of  widespread  diffusion,  like advertising, where the photographers Pere Català Pic, Emili Godes, Josep Sala and Josep Masana made an  impact  through  their search  for new aesthetic experiences. Soon other photographers, like Ramón Arissa, Ramon Batlles, Gabriel Casas, Josep Lladó, Carlos Nyssen, Josep Sala and Compal began further successful experiments in the new possibilities of the art of photography.

Despite  the  fact  that  these new ideas were well received in Catalonia, Catalan photographers had limited representation in the great international photographic events  that  took  place  during  those  years. The publication of  illustrated books  and authors’ monographs in Catalonia was virtually inexistent, and the historical research that would  later have put  the work of  the early Catalan photographers in its rightful place had not yet begun. 

Prague, Paris, Barcelona. Photographic Modernity from 1918 to 1948 proposes a new investigation of the interrelations of the photographic vanguard, reassessing the important  role played by early Catalan photographers  in  this movement. A  role  that has not been adequately recognized until today. 

Curator: David Balsells, director of  the photography archive at  the MNAC, with  the collaboration  of  Joan  Naranjo,  historian  of  photography  and  member  of  the assessment committee for photography, MNAC.

Catalogue: 2 editions: Catalan/French and Spanish/English 

MNAC. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Temporary Exhibition Space 1
Parc Montjuic

May 18 - September 12, 2010 

Price: 3,50 €
Times:  From  Tuesday  to  Saturday  10am- 7pm;  Sundays  10am-2.30pm. Mondays (non-holidays), closed.

The exhibition was supported by Agrolimen.

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