At the Fondation Henri-Cartier-Bresson, near Montparnasse in Paris, their beautiful exhibitions always enhance my knowledge of the history of photography, even though they are also often very much alike in their display, maybe due to the nature of the space, or to their traditional choice of hanging.
This time, I went to see the Moi Wer show. I knew the artist’s name vaguely and that he was linked to the 30s, one of the greatest periods for photography, but no more.
This exhibition has two important specificities: it focuses mainly on a book that Moi Wer published in 1931 called Ci-contre (Meaning “opposite” in English); and it owes its existence to the passion of two private collectors, Ann and Jurgen Wilde, who lent all the110 original vintage images. This precise focus makes the show easier to follow and to visit than if it was, say, a large retrospective of his lifetime work.
What we see are all the page spreads of the book. It had no particular theme, but just showed scenes, objects or places, sometimes with the clever and poetic use of superimposition. The images are carefully assembled on the pages, and they create an atmosphere not unrelated to what the Surrealists were after at that time. We can also see the influence of the avant-garde movement in photography at the time, represented for example by Moholy-Nagy or Rodchenko, who produced photographs taken from dramatic angles. Moi Wer uses the diagonal a lot, and ventures into abstraction, for instance in his images of paved streets or wooden fences that he assembles just for the sake of their geometric, repetitive rhythm. A few sentences by Moholy-Nagy on the walls bring perspective to Moi Wer’s technique and aesthetic.
One feels really lucky to be able to see these prints, remained in their original series, with the book cover and its characteristic typography.
In the upstairs room, some paper documents such as books and original copies of the avant-garde magazine of the 30s, Arts et Metiers Graphiques, prolonged the archive-lover delight. The fact that the exhibition starts with a text by the private collectors explaining their detective-like search for the artist (who now has a different name and lives in Israel) gives the whole show an impression that we are descending into a secret past to be discovered bits by bits.
Moi Wer | Ci-Contre | 12 September – 23 December | Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris