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Graffiti

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (photographed)

  • Date:

    1933-1956 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Brassaï Guyula Hálasz, born 1899 - died 1984 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gelatin silver print

  • Credit Line:

    Bequest of Gilberte Boyer Brassaï

  • Museum number:

    E.864-2014

  • Gallery location:

    Photography Centre, Room 100, The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery, case NORTH WALL

Brassaï was a Hungarian artist who lived in Paris from 1924 until his death in 1984. Originally trained as a painter, he began to make photographs in the late 1920s following a suggestion from André Kertész, a prominent photographer and fellow Hungarian also in Paris. During the 1930s, Brassaï chronicled the city in photographs, capturing its daytime fare and architecture alongside the scandalous nightlife in bars and brothels. His first book of these photographs, 'Paris by Night', was published in 1933 and firmly placed him in the Parisian artists' circles of the day.

Between 1933 and 1956, Brassaï travelled the city recording graffiti, particularly wall markings and carvings. He was interested in the transformative nature of the graffiti, both in how simple markings could become representational and in how these markings could change over time; embellished by other graffitists or eroded by the elements. The graffiti seen in these photographs range from abstract faces to political statements, which often evolve into conversations. They provide a glimpse into the whims and opinions of the everyday Parisian citizen and were categorised into nine groups by Brassaï: the wall as inspiration, the language of the wall, the birth of the face, masks and faces, animals, love, death, magic, and primitive images.

This series was first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1956 in the show ‘Language of the Wall: Parisian Graffiti Photographed by Brassaï’. It was organised by their photography curator at the time, Edward Steichen,who was also a prominent photographer himself. It was published in book format, which is where his categorisations are made clear, under the title ‘Graffiti’ in 1961.

Physical description

Black and white photograph depicting a pale grey wall with carvings that look like a face. Deeper recesses denote the eyes, nose and mouth, whereas shallower markings represent eyebrows, hair and face shape.

Place of Origin

Paris (photographed)

Date

1933-1956 (photographed)

Artist/maker

Brassaï Guyula Hálasz, born 1899 - died 1984 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Gelatin silver print

Marks and inscriptions

Verso:
Top right, pencil: 'A. 1615 / 22x30,5'
Top right, red ink: 'A.1615'
Bottom right, stamped in purple ink [faded]: 'SUCCESSION / BRASSAÏ / ESTATE'
Bottom right, red ink: 'Page 44'

Dimensions

Width: 22 cm image, Height: 30.4 cm image

Object history note

This object came to the museum as part of a bequest of 99 photographs by Brassaï from his widow, Madame Gilberte Boyer.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Brassai from Graffiti Series IV: 'Masks and Faces', 1933-56, gelatin silver print

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Brassaï, Graffiti, Stuttgart: Chr. Belser Verlag (1960)
Alain Sayag, Annick Lionel-Marie [ed.s], Brassaï: No Ordinary Eyes, London: Thames & Hudson (2000), pp.289-302
Anne Wilkes Tucker, Brassaï: The Eye of Paris, Houston, TX: The Museum of Fine Arts (1999), plates 100-108

Labels and date

Photography Centre 2018-20:

Brassaï (1899–1984)
Untitled photographs from Graffiti
Series IV: Masks and Faces; Series V: Animals, Series VIII: Magic; Series IX: Primitive Images
1933–56

For over two decades, the Hungarian photographer Brassaï roamed Paris taking pictures of markings and carvings on the city’s walls. He was interested in how graffiti transforms over time, either by embellishment or erosion by the elements. He categorised his collection of images of graffiti into nine ‘series’, with themes including ‘love’ and ‘magic’, which allowed him to build dramatic narratives around otherwise unremarkable elements of the city. [68]

Gelatin silver prints
Bequeathed by Gilberte Boyer Brassaï
Museum nos. E.864, 848, 878 & 856-2014
[]

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Gelatin silver process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Subject; Graffiti; Carving; Wall

Categories

Photographs; Graffiti

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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