William Klein (New York, 1928) revolutionised the history of photography, establishing the bases of a modern aesthetic that speaks of a post-war society still to be reconstructed, imagined and dreamed of, and still current today
"William Klein. Manifiesto" proposes to show all the facets of the author's work - photographic, pictorial, graphic and cinematographic - in order to show his multiple "creative lives" beyond photography
The exhibition presents 245 of his works, from the first, rarely exhibited paintings , to his abstract experiments from the 1950s, through a series of photographs from New York and other major capitals, documents, some of which are unpublished, books, cinema, focusing on his film Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966) and fashion photography
Within the framework of the XXII edition of PHotoESPAÑA, Espacio Fundación Telefónica presents: "William Klein. Manifesto", the first major retrospective in Spain dedicated to New York photographer William Klein, can be visited from 8 June to 22 September.
Curated by Raphaëlle Stopin, the exhibition aims to bring together all segments of the artist's pictorial, photographic, graphic and cinematographic work in order to get to know his "creative lives". The exhibition brings together nearly two hundred pieces, including paintings, photographs, documents, some of which are unpublished, films, models and prototypes to show the different, and often unknown facets of an artist who is often only thought of as a photographer.
Klein (New York, 1928) revolutionised the history of photography, establishing the bases of a modern aesthetic in direct contact with a post-war society yet to be reconstructed, imagined and dreamed of that still survives today. Visionary and radical are the adjectives that best define him, to the extent that photography, as it was in the twentieth century and is still conceived today, cannot be understood without him. Klein was so involved in the evolution of photography that he ended up shaping it.
Beginnings and photographic abstractions
He began working in the mid-50s, after studying at the Sorbonne and attending the workshops of André Lhote and Fernand Léger, unexpectedly breaking away from customs and existing codes of that time. In 1952, at the invitation of the Italian theatre director Giorgio Strehler, he exhibited his works in Milan at the Piccolo Theatre; and later at the Galleria del Milione and he created a series of abstract wall paintings for Italian architects. One of them, Angelo Mangiarotti, commissioned him to produce some black and white wall panels. In response, Klein created a set of monumental wooden revolving panels mounted on rails that, without him knowing, would be the beginning of his career as a photographer. It is precisely by photographing these painted panels for documentation purposes that Klein comes face to face with photography and its potential, and he considered recreating these black and white geometries in his lab. Thus, Klein starts a corpus, rediscovered years later in 2012, consisting of abstract compositions made in the dark room and he exhibited his "abstracts" at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris.
The birth of "Klein language" and the big cities series
In the 50s, books were the main channel to disseminate photographic works. In Paris, he contacted Les éditions du Seuil, a publishing house where the experimental film-maker Chris Marker worked, and he guaranteed Klein the publishing of his work, respecting the artist's original project. In 1956, he published Life is Good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels, which becomes his manifesto, a revolutionary book that laid the foundations for the "Klein language" and shook the principles of photography, which was trying to find a place in the arts at that time. It was published in Italy and Japan and immediately raised to be considered an essential category.
In this manifesto, Klein's global vision can be seen in his work: he makes the streets his raw material, encompassing, generous and voracious in every dimension. It talks about a century in motion, a century of mutations, of creations, of emancipations. Always in the centre, very close to his subject to better capture tension lines, in the 1950s he created large photographic sets in the heart of modern cities such as "New York 1954-55", "Rome 1956", "Moscow 1959-61" and "Tokyo 1961". He went on to discover show business, and started directing for television and photographing for the fashion press until cinema arrived to satisfy his desire for movement and his commitment as a photographer.
Film and fashion in Klein's work
William Klein also maintains an ambivalent relationship with fashion photography, which amused him as much as it made him uncomfortable. The staging of fashion photography would become his gateway to film directing. He entered the world of fashion with the support of Vogue artistic director, Alexander Liberman. Klein brings models to the streets, making the streets enter the image while the crowd gathers, and traffic intensifies until he presses the shutter to catch the urban tension in play.
Klein has also directed 21 films, including short, medium-length and feature films, in the fields of fiction and documentary films, as well as nearly 250 commercials. The artistic dynamism displayed in this field is striking, changing from one style to another, and sometimes combining several genres in the same film, from musical comedy to reality TV. Since his arrival in the world of cinema was rather late, Klein conceived it as a space of freedom in which he staged his prophetic visions of our modernity, with a more political positioning than ever before. Thus, the exhibition is completed with a focus on his film Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? 1966), a unique and visionary satire of the world of fashion and, more generally, of show business. For the main character, Polly Maggoo, Klein chose model Dorothy McGowan, who had collaborated with him in many fashion shoots for Vogue.
Finally, the exhibition also includes his "painted contact sheets", created in his studio and where photography meets painting, which the artist applies with large brushes. Until recently, contact sheets were used by professional photographers to view all shots of the same film all at once. The ones presented in the exhibition are original, but they have been enlarged.
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