Sunday, April 18, 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson @MoMA

If you are in New York, do not pass GO, visit "Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century" at the Museum of Modern Art on view now through June 28. This extensive retrospective contains over 300 prints from the career of one of the true masters of the medium. The exhibition, curated by Peter Galassi, occupies the 6th floor galleries and is categorized into 13 themes. There are many of the familiar "greatest hits" as well as rarely seen surprises which put his body of work into new perspective. While I'm particularly fond of HCB's early work for its immediacy and artistic freedom, I saw the later pictures in a different context. Many of the better known "photojournalistic" pictures which were sometimes fettered by the constraints of creating imagery more accessible to the public are complimented by photographs which are grittier and edgier. I felt some, especially the photos taken in the United States and the USSR, were prescient of the work of the younger photographer Robert Frank in their probing and haunting qualities. Mr. Galassi's essay in the accompanying catalogue offers further insight into the milieu behind this astonishing work. I was able to attend the panel discussion "The Legacy of Henri Cartier-Bresson" moderated by Mr. Galassi with Magnum photographer Gilles Peress and art historian Jean-Francois Chevier. While the evening was somewhat unstructured and meandering, the lively discussion provided fascinating anecdotes about Cartier-Bresson's life and work.