Prague, Paris, Barcelona
Photographic Modernity from 1918 to 1948
MNAC. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona
Through September 12, 2010
© 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
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.