Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu
Palazzo Grassi, Venezia
July 11, 2020 – March 20, 2021
Palazzo Grassi presents ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu‘, co-organised with the Bibliothèque nationale de France and in collaboration with the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. The exhibition is a unique project based on the Master Collection created in 1973 by Cartier-Bresson at the request of his art collector friends Dominique and John de Menil, for which the photographer carefully selected the 385 best images from his contact sheets. Six sets of this extraordinary collection of the photographer’s work were printed and are conserved at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the University of Fine Arts in Osaka, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Menil Collection in Houston as well as at the Pinault Collection and at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.
This Master Collection has been examined by five guest curators: collector François Pinault, photographer Annie Leibovitz, writer Javier Cercas, film director Wim Wenders, and heritage conservator Sylvie Aubenas. Hence, there is no monograph, theme, geographical area or chronology in ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu’ but rather a comparison of five points of view on the work of the “Eye of the Century“. As Mathieu Humery, chief curator of the exhibition, states “Le Grand Jeu (“The Great Game”): the title, reminiscent of chance, a theme dear to the surrealists, primarily refers to the artist’s selection. The term, which has various connotations, can also suggest recreation or leisure. Lastly, the concept can also refer to the set of rules to which one must submit, namely “to play the game“.
But jeu (“game”) is also, and more importantly, a homonym of je (“I”). Thus, like an exquisite cadaver, the “Great I” exalts itself, firstly via the homage paid here to the work of one man, but al- so through the visual expression of the “Me” of each curator, which necessarily emerges from the game that they have developed”. The rules of the game are simple: the five joint curators were required to individually select about 50 of the artist’s images. Their selections had to be made from the images chosen by Cartier-Bresson for the Master Collection. None of the curators knew the others’ selections. All aspects of the exhibition – the design of the layout, framing, colour of the picture rails – have all been left to the absolute discretion of the curators. Each space is therefore an exhibition in its own right that is independent of the others. The five curators freely give us their story, their emotions and the place that these images have occupied in their work and in their life.
Each of these collections transports us to a particular corner of the universe of the photographer and his curator for the duration of the exhibition in Venice and Paris. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in three languages, published jointly by Marsilio Editori, Venice, Palazzo Grassi – Punta della Dogana and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, with texts by the five curators, FranÇois Hébel, Agnès Sire and Aude Raimbault of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Matthieu Humery, chief curator of the exhibition. ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu’ will be presented at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in Paris, from 13 April to 22 August 2021.