Eugène Atget: A Quiet Calling
Selections from the Mary and Dan Solomon Collection
November 6, 2014–January 3, 2015
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY
New York, October 23, 2014 — Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present Eugène Atget: A Quiet Calling, on view November 6, 2014 through January 3, 2015. Drawn from a single private collection, the exhibition features 30 of Atget's finest photographs that explore his ambitious, lifelong project to create a visible record of French culture. Including both iconic and previously unseen images, the works on view demonstrate how Atget's poetic intuition and clarity of vision anticipated the sensibilities of modern art and ultimately yielded the most influential body of work produced by a single photographer in the 20th century. The public is invited to attend an opening reception on Thursday, November 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
A self-trained, commercial photographer working in and around Paris for more than 30 years, Eugène Atget (1857–1927) considered himself a creator of documents, rather than an artist. He came to the medium in the late 1880s and sold his photographs of old houses, churches, streets, courtyards, doors, stairs, and other decorative motifs – "Documents pour artistes," as indicated by the sign on his studio door – to painters, illustrators, engravers, and set designers for use as source material in their trades. Beginning in 1898, however, Atget turned his attention to the architecture and landscape of Old Paris and its environs. His single-handed efforts resulted in an urban portrait of approximately 10,000 images that eloquently captured the soul of the changing city. As Atget wrote in 1920:
For more than 20 years I have been working alone and of my own initiative in all the old streets of Old Paris to make a collection of 18 x 24 [centimeter] photographic negatives: artistic documents of beautiful urban architecture from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The old mansions, historic or interesting houses, beautiful facades, lovely doors, beautiful paneling, door knockers, old fountains, stylish staircases (wrought iron and wood)... Today this enormous artistic and documentary collection is finished; I can say that I possess the whole of Old Paris.
The ambition of Atget's documentary project was reflected in the topical classification and organization of his archive. The photographs on view represent each of the five major series of his oeuvre – Landscape-Documents, Art of Old Paris, Environs, Picturesque Paris, and Topography – and one of the seven thematic albums he carefully composed for sale to collectors and institutions c. 1910, Documents pour l'histoire du Vieux Paris, will also be on display. Despite their increasing obsolescence, Atget remained dedicated to 19th-century techniques and large format technology throughout his career, producing contact prints from 18 x 24 cm glass-plate negatives, often on albumen silver photographic papers.
In his documentation of France and its cultural legacy, Atget poetically transformed the ordinary and expanded the possibilities of the photographic medium. The powerful and clear description of fact found in his pictures, combined with a lyric sensitivity, translated traditional objective recording into an original vision that was purely and uniquely his own. As John Szarkowski wrote in his 1973 publication Looking at Photographs:
Atget's work is unique on two levels. He was the maker of a great visual catalogue of the fruits of French culture, as it survived in and near Paris in the first quarter of this century. He was in addition a photographer of such authority and originality that his work remains a benchmark against which much of the most sophisticated contemporary photography measures itself. Other photographers had been concerned with describing specific facts (documentation), or with exploiting their individual sensibilities (self-expression). Atget encompassed and transcended both approaches when he set himself the task of understanding and interpreting in visual terms a complex, ancient, and living tradition.
The collection from which this exhibition is drawn is considered the finest in private hands. Assembled over a 20-year period, the collectors methodically sought out and acquired the best prints of Atget's most important images. The collection contains many photographs that are not found in other major holdings of Atget's work, and is also distinguished by the number of early exhibition prints on the original mounts used by Julien Levy and Berenice Abbott in the initial exhibitions of Atget's work at the Weyhe Gallery and the Julien Levy Gallery. There are also many photographs from Atget's late period, taken after 1919, which are emptied of "much detail" and filled instead with what Maria Morris Hambourg refers to as "resonant atmosphere and silence." The collection now consists of 100 pictures, 28 of which are contained in a rare and complete album. With this group of photographs, one can arguably see a complete view of Atget's achievement.
Although Atget received little art historical recognition before his death, the posthumous promotion and preservation of his work by his supporters (specifically American photographer Berenice Abbott, legendary New York art dealer Julien Levy, and Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski) established his career as central to the history of photography and, more broadly, modern art. Today Atget's photographs, as well as many of his negatives, are held in institutional collections worldwide, including The Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Musée Carnavalet, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., among others.
For more information about Eugène Atget: A Quiet Calling or press requests, please contact Margaret Kelly at 212.759.7999 or email@example.com. For general inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the world's leading photography galleries, Pace/MacGill has been dedicated to advancing fine art photography for 30 years. Known for discovering artists, representing masters, and placing important collections and archives into major public institutions, Pace/MacGill has presented some 200 exhibitions and published numerous catalogues on modern and contemporary photography. Founded in 1983 by Peter MacGill, in collaboration with Arne Glimcher of Pace Gallery and Richard Solomon of Pace Editions, Pace/MacGill is located at 32 East 57th Street in New York City.