The Spectacle of modern life exhibition offers an original dialogue between the 29 plates in the lithographic album entitled La Ville (The City) (Fernand Léger national museum
collection) published by Tériade in 1959 and the photographs of urban landscapes from the Paris Architecture and Heritage Media Library (modern prints by André Kertész, François Kollar, Roger Parry, Marcel Bovis and Noël Le Boyer) and from the Villa Arson National Centre of Contemporary Art in Nice (works by Robert Doisneau and William Klein). The three complementary themes explore the place of the French capital as a centre for the circulation of novel ideas between 1920 and 1950 from the avant-garde to the consumption of the masses and the accompanying emergence of urban modernity in the artistic imagination.
The modern image
With its formal iconographic register, the painting "Nature morte A.B.C." (Dead nature A.B.C.) by Fernand Léger in 1927 is the incarnation of a new plastic language influenced by photography, cinema and visual communication. In fact, the interwar period marks the birth and then the mass distribution of the illustrated press and advertising, which led to an increased circulation of images. Theorised as of 1925 by Lázsló Moholy-Nagy in his work entitled Peinture, photographie, film" (Painting, photography, film) and analysed in the premonitory essay "Petite histoire de la photographie" (A short history of photography) (1931) by Walter Benjamin, the aesthetics of the New Vision advocates the decompartmentalisation of practices in order to widen visual perception and to take an enlightened leaf through the urban daily. While advertising orders allow photographers for find a commercial outlet, they also develop their artistic creativity. Furthermore, the recourse to new visual effects (high-angle and low-angle shots, close-ups, double exposure, etc.) enriches pictorial experimentation. Invited by Charlotte Perriand during the International Exhibition of Modern Life Arts and Techniques in Paris, Fernand Léger thus played a part in creating an immense photomontage destined for the rural Centre. In order to glorify the agricultural policy of the Front Populaire, several photographs by François Kollar, ordered in 1931 by Horizons de France, were used to this end for his editorial project entitled La France travaille (France at work).
In 1953, Fernand Léger suggested to the Tériade art editor that he work with Blaise Cendrars to create a luxury book dedicated to the City of Light. Due to the painters sudden death, the album will be published post-mortem with a choice of illustrations made by Nadia, the artists widow, and without the text by the Swiss writer. In the exhibition, the dialogue between the lithographs and the photographs allows the Parisian landscape to be evoked; the landscape in which Fernand Léger lived from the time he moved to La Ruche in Montparnasse in 1908 until the time he took up his country residence in the southern suburbs in 1952. In an echo of the snapshots taken by his friend Robert Doisneau and his pupil William Klein, his humanist stamp pays homage to popular creativity by way of the vivid representation of small street trades. In order to create unusual perspectives on Parisian town planning, the painter also borrowed the photographic aesthetics by using audacious diagonals and collages of modern infrastructures (viaducts, Eiffel Tower, chimney stacks).
Through the representation of high life and popular hobbies, the striking black and white compositions by modernistic photographers combine with Fernand Légers colour images in order to reproduce the dynamism that characterises perception of the city.