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McMullen Museum Presents Paris Night & Day: Photography between the Wars

february 15–june 8, 2014

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Ilse Bing (1899–1998), "Cancan dancers," Moulin Rouge, 1931 © Ilse Bing Estate


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (February 2014) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College presents an exclusive exhibition that displays masterpieces of twentieth-century photography. Paris Night & Day: Photography between the Wars represents the City of Light in the wake of World War I, and defines a moment when photography came into its own.

The exhibition will be on display from February 15 through June 8, 2014. It focuses on the period between 1918 and 1939, when Paris drew an extensive international community of artists and writers who fueled each other’s creativity to produce one of the richest cultural moments of the twentieth century. In a city where social and artistic hierarchies were unsettled by the war, photographers played a central role in recording and defining a new vision of modern life.

Comprising some 100 works, the images in Paris Night & Day show how groundbreaking  photographers—including Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Ilse Bing, André Kertész, Bill Brandt, Lisette Model, Dora Maar, and Brassaï—represented modern subjects in sometimes startling new ways and captured Paris at its most romantic and its most sinister. [MEDIA NOTE: Jpg/Tiff images available on request from the McMullen: please e-mail Kate Shugert (kate.shugert@bc.edu). Slideshow of images, more exhibition details at www.bc.edu/artmuseum.]

“The McMullen is pleased to present the research undertaken by [BC] Professor Ash Anderson and his students on the superb photographs from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. The collection includes several master prints: the best examples of well-known and celebrated twentieth-century photographs,” says McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

Public Opening Reception: Monday, February 17, 7–9:30 p.m.
On Monday, February 17 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., the public is invited to join BC community members at a free opening reception with special evening viewing at the Museum, in Devlin Hall Room 101. For information visit www.bc.edu/artmuseum.

Exhibition: Curators, Sponsors, and Support
Originally organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions, the McMullen Museum display of Paris Night & Day is curated by Ash Anderson, a faculty member in the Boston College Fine Arts Department.

Anderson organized this exhibition in conjunction with his Art History course, Photography in Paris 1900–1945. In it, he used the exhibition photographs as a starting point for in depth exploration of the ideas and innovations they represent. His students contributed label texts for Paris Night & Day.

 “This exhibition offers the rare opportunity to consider both canonical and rarely seen photographs from this unusually rich period in the history of photography,” according to Anderson. “These pictures illustrate a complex evolution in the ways photographers defined themselves in relation to art. We see them simultaneously looking to photography’s past for inspiration and playfully testing the limits of their medium. We are delighted to feature some exceptionally beautiful examples of these photographs.”

This period, he added, “is one in which photographers took real risks in their effort to produce modern images. In the wake of WWI they had an opportunity to break away from tradition and redefine photography’s relationship to art, and they did so with a combination of enthusiasm and endless experimentation.”

The exhibition is underwritten by Boston College, the Patrons of the McMullen Museum, and the Newton College Class of 1964.

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Ilse Bing (1899–1998), "Champ-de-Mars from the Eiffel Tower," 1931 © Ilse Bing Estate

Paris Night & Day: Photography between the Wars
Paris Night & Day
defines a moment when photography came into its own. Using new equipment capable of capturing images on the fly, many photographers recorded the theater of Parisian streets with unprecedented freedom and spontaneity. To distance themselves from painting, and to define uniquely photographic compositions, they introduced unexpected angles and perspectives into their work. Others photographed the city at night, using their cameras to explore the bars, dancehalls, and theaters that were the province of the city’s demimonde—those who lived a flagrant lifestyle. Still others abandoned the street to remain in the studio and darkroom, where they used new photographic techniques to produce imagery that bordered on the abstract and distanced their photographic practice from the medium’s traditional association with the documentary.

In the process they created masterpieces of twentieth-century photography, many of which are represented in the exhibition. The display—drawn primarily from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg—also includes a group of earlier photographs of Paris by Eugène Atget, Edouard Baldus, and others, as well as selections from the Museum’s permanent collection and local private collections.

The exhibition title, Paris Night & Day, is echoed in its organization. The McMullen Museum’s upper level will narrate the transition from static nineteenth-century photographs that focused on Parisian monuments to a new kind of photography that took advantage of innovative new cameras to capture unexpected angles and spontaneous photographs of life in motion. The lower level will feature photographs that explore the city after dark, exposing its bars and nightclubs, its brothels and gangs. Additional sections on the lower level will explore creative experimentation born from another kind of darkness: the photographic darkroom. Often working in dialogue with Surrealist art and literature, Man Ray, Dora Maar, and others made photographs that were fundamentally altered by manipulations and interventions during the development process. Exhibition sections:

Setting the Stage: A preface to the historical period that is the show’s focus, this section features photographs by Eugène Atget, whose works represent a clarity of vision that inspired younger photographers following the First World War.

New Visions: This section brings together images characterized by sharp angles, unexpected vantage points, and a preference for graphic over narrative qualities: strategies employed by photographers to distance their work from painting as a model.

The Theater of the Street: Many photographers used their cameras to explore the lively street culture that emerged following the war, and the photographs in this section celebrate the medium’s ability to capture life on the fly.

“Something which is not in the Louvre”: As photography came into its own, it relied less on traditionally picturesque subjects and began to explore other themes, including labor and poverty. In this section, the theater of the street is expanded to encompass subjects who might remain unseen beyond the photographer’s lens.

The Avant-Garde Circle: Artists before the Lens: Many of the photographers in this exhibition were friends and traveled in the circles that formed around leaders of the Parisian avant-garde, particularly Pablo Picasso and André Breton. It is perhaps not surprising that they would turn their cameras on each other, and on themselves, and this section features portraits of photographers including Man Ray, Dora Maar, and Ilse Bing.

Seeing Photographically: The photographs in this section are propositions for a new kind of photographic seeing. Their makers are using the camera to explore the nature of vision, and the ways in which it is clarified or transformed when translated into photographs. By taking advantage of existing reflections, disconcerting shadows, chance encounters, or simply inverting a print, they evoked the surreal in the everyday and drew magical or disconcerting compositions from the mundane.

The Manipulated Photograph: The photographs in this section are the result of darkroom experimentation and manipulation. Photographers sought to push the creative boundaries of their medium by intervening in the development process, and the results are alternately surreal and sublime.

Paris at Night: Using their cameras to explore the denizens of bars, nightclubs, and back alleys, photographers—including Brassaï, whose iconic collection details nocturnal activities and landmarks, and Ilse Bing—documented dark counterparts to the sunny theater of the street.  

Camera as Voyeur: Looking behind the Scenes:  This section considers the photographer’s tendency to take viewers “behind the scenes” and to show new subjects and perspectives. These photographs of theaters and brothels explore the photographer’s role as the ultimate voyeur. 

McMullen Museum of Art
The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 for the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours
Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall 101 on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed April 18, April 20, April 21, and May 26. Free docent-led tours every Sunday at 2 p.m. starting February 24. Tours also arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking and program information, call 617.552.8100 or visit www.bc.edu/artmuseum.

 

Media Contact: (not for publication): Nancy Netzer, Director, McMullen Museum, netzer@bc.edu