Opening Reception: Saturday, March 29, 2-5 pm
Exhibition Dates: March 29 - May 3, 2003
When placing an artist in the framework of history, we rely on retrospect and distance (of time, and of physicality) to judge their importance. In the almost two decades since his death, André Kertész has gained the importance and respect for which he worked so hard in his life, particularly in his final years. Undoubtedly, he is now regarded as one of the eminent photographers of the 20th century, and his importance in the history of photography has been consistently reasserted as the realm of fine art photography has itself evolved.
Although he is most often associated with his years in Paris (1925-36), Kertész's life and photographic career both began in Hungary (b. Budapest, 1894). In 1912, he began working at the stock exchange in Budapest, the very same year that he acquired his first camera. From that time on, it was his constant companion and the outlet for his artistic passion. During his relatively short time in Paris, Kertész established himself as one of the top European photographers of his day, achieving both artistic and commercial success within a community saturated with gifted artists.
It was thus at the height of his European success, in 1936, that Kertész and his wife Elizabeth (whom he had met at the stock exchange in Budapest) decided to move to New York, for what was meant to be a short-term sabbatical. His experience of that city could not have differed more from his life in Paris. Far from being celebrated and embraced by the photographic community, he instead found himself isolated, unappreciated, and rejected. Furthermore, a series of extenuating circumstances - including Elizabeth's business success and the impending war - made returning to Europe impossible.
For over two decades Kertész existed in this limbo. It was only after years of frustrating encounters with art directors and publishers who did not understand his work that Kertész accepted a staff position at House and Garden, a job that he would retain for 17 years (his "lost years", as he referred to them). In the midst of his relative anonymity, with an unsatisfying job and few peers with which to share his art, Kertész made some of his most complex, lonely, and hauntingly beautiful images. There is a deep irony in the bitter isolation that he experienced in New York, which he had previously romanticized in his images from Hungary and Paris.
The beginning of Kertész's rebirth was marked by his resignation from House and Garden in 1962. Then in 1963, he was miraculously reunited with his negatives, prints, and correspondence from pre-war Paris, which he had thought to be lost (they had in fact been buried in a bomb shelter for nearly 30 years). In 1964, John Szarkowski mounted a one-man show of Kertész's work at the Museum of Modern Art; finally he began to find some of the recognition that he had so long sought in America. Although he found greater recognition through the latter years of his life, there remained a pronounced melancholia to his work, particularly in his images from the time leading up to Elizabeth's death from lung cancer. Devastated by the loss his beloved wife, he found solace in photographing carefully constructed still life images, and relief in devoting his energy to his career.
In the years following his death in 1985, André Kertész's reputation as a master photographer has been constantly reinforced; his influence on the generations of photographers following him has been recognized. His iconic images from Paris have always been his best-known work. However, his New York images constitute a large body of work - proportionate to the almost fifty years that he spent there. The Estate of André Kertész has only recently released much of the work featured in our exhibition, at a point when retrospect will allow us to give this period its due attention. Indeed, the National Gallery in Washington is currently planning a large retrospective of Kertész's work that will weight the amount of work by the three cities that he called home and the number of years that he spent photographing in each one: Budapest (13 years); Paris (11 years); and New York (49 years). We are honoured to participate in the introduction of this work, and to be recognized as an official agent for the Estate.
"New York delivered blow after blow to André Kertész. However resentful he became of the hostile atmosphere, he accepted the challenge the city had to offer. It had questioned and rejected his character, his history, and his art. He had refused to bend his vision, and for many years remained isolated among millions. The crucible of Kertész's New York experience forced him to draw upon his deepest resources. He persevered, reinforcing his identity, until New York finally came around to first accepting and then celebrating him."
Robert Gurbo, Curator, The Estate of André Kertész