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"Brassaï/Picasso: Conversations with Light"
2000-02-02 until 2000-05-01
Musée Picasso
Paris, , FR France

Fitting into the cycle of exhibitions put on by the Musée Picasso since 1994 to investigate the painter's relationship with photography, this exhibition focuses on his collaboration with Brassaï (1899-1984). Recent additions to the museum's collections have enabled it to present, for the first time, a significant body of their work in common, organised around two major themes: photographs of sculptures and various uses of the glass plate technique.

Brassaï and Picasso met in 1932 through Tériade, who had commissioned a series of photos of the rue La Boétie studio and of recent plaster sculptures done by Picasso at Boisgeloup, for the first issue of the review Minotaure. Later on, between 1943 and 1946, Brassaï photographed Picasso's entire sculpted work for Les Sculptures de Picasso, 1949, published by Chêne, with a preface by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Between 1932 and 1946, Brassaï therefore systematically photographed Picasso's sculpted work, which was virtually unknown at the time. This led to a dialogue between the two artists on the respective nature of photography and sculpture. Conversations avec Picasso, published by Brassaï in 1964, made famous the ins and outs of their dialogue.In 1996, the Musée Picasso acquired that part of Brassaï's photographic collection which dealt with the life and work of Picasso. It is the richest public collection on the photographer, containing over 440 photos. The exhibition displays 150 of them, mostly unpublished, in a series of short sequences which associate them with works by Picasso in plaster, wood, bronze or torn paper. By changing the viewpoint, framing or lighting, Brassaï reveals what could be considered his 'manifesto' on the photography of sculpture.One December evening in 1932, Brassaï left a small blank photographic plate behind in the rue La Boétie studio. Picasso took hold of it and etched a portrait of Marie-Thérèse on it. It was a decisive episode for Brassaï, who later wrote to Picasso: It was you who aroused the demon of drawing in me. (Letter dated 15 May 1945, Picasso records, Paris). Subsequently, both artists experimented with the glass plate technique, each in his own way.

The work of printing photographic proofs from a painted glass plate (Picasso) or from an engraved photographic plate (Brassaï) combined the potential of photography, engraving and drawing. In 1934-35, Brassaï made over 150 'scratchings' from about thirty negatives of 'nudes' dating from 1931-1935. The exhibition presents the various states of these 'scratchings'. Photography sometimes vanished into thin air. In places, a few scraps survived; a trembling nipple, a foreshortened face, a thigh, an arm. (Brassaï, Transmutations) In his turn, Picasso took the experiment still further in 1936-1937 with a series of four large glass plates painted in oil, from which he printed about twenty proofs, laying paper cut-outs, pieces of fabric or objects on top of the glass plates.

With the Dora Maar bequest, all Picasso's plates and prints have recently joined the Musée Picasso's collections. Except for four reproductions published in Cahiers d'art in 1937, they are all unpublished. For his part, Brassaï published twelve shots which emerged from his research in 1934-1935, under the title Transmutations, in 1967. The 60 proofs and 26 original negatives presented here allow the spectator to gauge the value of the results obtained by the photographer.

The exhibition also contains Brassaï's working contact sheets, often annotated and highlighted, records, books, drawings and dedications which are the milestones in the remarkable collaboration between Brassaï and Picasso.Celebrating the centenary of the birth of Brassaï (9 September 1899), the exhibition reveals an aspect of both artists' work which has remained secret, and the dynamics of which is the fascination they shared for photography and sculpture, drawing and photography. From these techniques, they constructed their own worlds. By ceaselessly questioning and testing them, they reshaped these techniques in a decisive way. At a time when researchers are delving into the mainsprings of creation in the twentieth century, it seemed useful to reconstitute the fine thread of this dialogue in which Brassaï and Picasso tempt, defy, and answer each other in the language of photography.

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