Peter Blum Gallery is pleased to present Chris Marker: 100, a survey across seven decades of the artist’s career through almost 250 photographs, film stills, and prints. This is the gallery’s fifth exhibition featuring Chris Marker (1921-2012) and coincides with the centenary of his birth. The exhibition runs from November 20, 2021 - January 21, 2022 at 176 Grand Street, New York.
Visionary filmmaker, photographer, writer, and multimedia artist, Chris Marker emerged in postwar Paris initially gaining renown for his films that include the seminal work, La Jetée (1962). Subsequently he would create a lasting influence across media and through his writings on the ways in which we consider time, memory, and observation of contemporary life. The centenary of his birth offers an ideal occasion to look back at his legacy through a survey of several disparate bodies of work. Totaling almost 250 selected images, and spanning the 1950s to the 2010s, they demonstrate Marker’s reach across the globe and time. Whether chronicling political dissent, or postwar North Korea, poetically documenting the famous, or the anonymous of the Paris Metro, the exhibited works ultimately create a telling self-portrait of the legendarily reclusive artist. They offer a revealing look at his ironic yet impassioned view of the modern world and people coping with it, illustrating his perpetual inquisitiveness directed toward people’s lives. Also evoking or counterpointing his films that often question the linearity of narration and history, these exhibited works explore Marker’s archive of memory. They create new dialogues and new connections, while recalling definitive moments of a life lived behind the camera.
Chris Marker was born in Paris in 1921 and died in Paris in 2012. Selected solo exhibitions include: Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018, 2013, 1997); Cinémathèque Française, Paris (2018); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2014); MIT List Visual Arts Center and Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2013); Moscow Photobiennale (2012); Les Rencontres d’Arles de la Photographie, Arles (2011); Centre de la Photographie, Geneva (2011); Beirut Art Center (2009); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2005, 1995); Hong Kong Arts Centre (2005); Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (1999).
“I have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?”
— Chris Marker
In the series Crush-Art, Marker crumbles pages of magazines that depict women’s portraits and scans the crushed faces, creating ghost-like figures that challenge our understanding of time and beauty. As Chris Marker describes:
“...For modern art had the guts to challenge Time and Nature on their terrain, and methodically distort the human face, especially female. Out of despair? Out of impatience? Out of a pathetic desire to discover a beauty beyond the beauty? The Nazis made no bones about these attempts, by coining the concept of Entartete Kunst, “degenerate art.” I’m afraid my crushed faces would have fallen that category, which would have been a great honor, given my companions: Grosz, Chagall, Kokoschka…But of course it would be preposterous to compare my ambitions to theirs, and for a good reason (genius apart): I have no ambition. The whole experiment happened in a totally automatic way (my generation having been shaped by vintage Surrealism); it’s automatically that I began to crumble pages in magazines, then scan the result and meet a series of ghosts. I feel rather comfortable with ghosts, perhaps because they entered my life very early, perhaps because strangeness looks more familiar to me than the impeccable standard they projected before crushing, perhaps for no reason at all.”
Silent Movie questions the linearity of narration and history and presents a highly personal response to the 100th anniversary of the invention of cinema. It consists of 18 framed black and white film stills. Chris Marker developed the work by experimenting with black and white film clips and filming in black and white himself. The original installation included five monitors, on which Marker’s black and white films played, and he wrote an essay written by Marker entitled, “The Rest is Silent.” In the essay, Marker contests the notion of silent films, claiming there was always, at the bare minimum, a pianist or narrator to accompany the film while sifting through some of his earliest childhood memories with the medium. Marker explains how he conceptualized the work noting, “Perhaps this installation aims to be just that kind of altar: the sheer exposure to film magic…”
“Cocteau used to say that at night, statues escape from museums and go walking in the streets,” Marker notes in a brief comment on the exhibition. “During my peregrinations in the Paris Métro, I sometimes had such unusual encounters. Models of famous painters were still among us, and I was lucky enough to have them sitting in front of me.”
— Chris Marker
PASSENGERS is comprised of more than two hundred photographs taken by Marker between 2008 and 2010. The series, which is Marker’s first in color, are images of passengers traveling on the Paris Métro. PASSENGERS captures the many private actions and gestures that take place daily in the public sphere. Mothers cradling their children, couples whispering intimately, women wistfully staring out the window or into the middle distance, engrossed in their own personal thoughts. In several of the shots, we see whole train cars filled with similarly disengaged people. Taken as a complete body of work, this series very clearly illustrates the various ways in which people create invisible walls and boundaries in order to cope with modern urban life. Chris Marker further to the photographs he takes, enhances, changes or colors his images on the computer, giving them often an eerie, almost otherworldly presence.
"In 1957, I had the opportunity to join a group of French journalists "invited" to visit North Korea. I realized later what a unique opportunity that was. The four years following the war (a conflict soberly described by General Bradley as the "wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy") had been dedicated mostly to rebuilding a bomb-stricken country, and the formidable propaganda machine that would soon be identified with the sheer mention of North Korea wasn't yet running at full throttle. We were subjected to a sizable dose of propaganda, but between two obligatory sessions of Socialist kowtowing, our hosts allowed us an amount of free walking unequalled since...Watching the image of hopelessness on the faces of the poor wretches made me appreciate even more the liberty I had enjoyed to hang around Pyongyang with my camera and to look everywhere, including marketplaces."
— Chris Marker
“It is with the face turned toward me that I have true relations. No longer are there Korea or Koreans, singular and plural of the same night, but only these familiar faces (and that is the Golden Fleece).”
— Chris Marker
Divided into four sections, Staring Back is organized around the idea of the faces Marker has seen in his travels, and of the faces that have in turn witnessed his observant gaze –“I stare” and “They stare,” as Marker puts it. Central to the exhibition are his depictions of political demonstrations from Algerian independence protests in 1962, to the Pentagon march in 1967, to May 1968 in Paris, and continuing to 2006. Interspersed are photographic traces of his inimitable films, including La Jetée, Letter from Siberia, The Six Face of Pentagon, Cuba Si!, Le fond de l’air est rouge, Sans Soleil, and The Case of the Grinning Cat, among others. Although some of the portraits depict well-known individuals (such as Simone Signoret and Akira Kurosawa), most are of unidentified citizens or even animals to whom Marker and his camera were drawn in the course of his global progress through Asia, South America, Scandinavia, Africa, Russia, and elsewhere.
"We exchanged looks, as one says, but what did they get in exchange? Sometimes a fraction of a second, sometimes a long, serious look, sometimes friendly, sometimes (rarely) hostile, and me like a fast pickpocket running away with my bounty, sure to find a quiet place to upack it at will, and rejoice."
— Chris Marker
"And always the animals, from each trip you bring back a gaze, a pose, a gesture, that points to the truest of humanity better than images of humanity itself."
— Chris Marker
Marker's left-wing politics fueled his impulse to document demonstrations, which began in 1962 at the anti-war protests based in Paris. He had an unwavering interest in rebellions, revolutions, attempts at regime change, and the popular movements by which peoples give public voice to their opinions. He followed such movements in different countries on many continents, including the USA, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Cuba, Chile, China, Russia, Czechoslovakia and Vietnam, and also much closer to home in Besançon, Saint-Nazaire, and of course, Paris.
“During those years, I came to the conclusion that the only sensible weapon against the cops could be a film camera.”
— Chris Marker
"Petals are for sure these visages I capture like a benevolent paparazzo. Stolen, yes, but by another trick of the mirror, here stealing means giving. Tabloids love to catch people (preferably celebrities) unaware, if possible, with an awkward or ridiculous expression, things that happen mechanically, independently of the subject's real intention. When I was a kid, French President Poincaré once visited a WWI graveyard under a blazing sun, and the extreme light made appear on his face, for one-tenth of a second, a rictus that could be mistaken for a grin. A photograph caught that moment, and for the rest of his career he was berated by the Rightest opponents as “the man who laughs in cemeteries”. It may be that this childhood's memory did help me to generate a defiant curiosity toward images. So, my aim in collecting these “petals” is exactly—small wonder—the opposite of tabloids. I try to give them their best moment, often imperceptible in the stream of time, sometimes 1/50 of a second that makes them truer to their inner selves. I started the experience with a wristwatch camera, hence the title “QUELLE HEURE EST-ELLE?”. Then I used different contraptions, but I kept the title, for my personal pleasure and because the stolen moment of a woman's face tells something about Time itself … But that's another story and, oh yes, I had almost forgotten… Pound's poem: it was written in Paris, and the title is “In a Station of the Metro.”
— Chris Marker
Marker also experimented with printmaking, exploring notions of time, and commenting on his film projects. The modern finally meets the traditional arts in the series, After Dürer, where Marker uses the engravings of the German printmaker and revisits them through digital manipulations by creating his own photogravures. In the image Hollow Men, it also questions the linearity of narration and history. It was created in relation to a video installation of the same name that reflects on the European wasteland that resulted from the First World War. The title references a T.S. Eliot poem from 1925 commenting on the suffering soliders in the Great War endured.
T.S.ELIOT WROTE IT IN 1925
THE ASHES OF WORLD WAR I WERE BARELY COLD
AND WE 4 YEAR OLD TODDLERS BARELY MADE OUT
A WORLD OF STRANGE FORMS
SHAPED BY THAT WAR
THE WAR TO END ALL WARS THEY SAID
WHICH WE WOULD DISCOVER QUITE UNTRUE
LESS THAN 80 SEASONS LATER
"HEADPIECES FILLED WITH STRAW"
OR "DRIED VOICES" OR "QUIET AND MEANINGLESS"
HOW OFTEN WOULD THESE WORDS APPLY
TO MY FELLOW PASSENGERS
ABOARD THE ERRATIC LINER
OF CENTURY XXth ?
"THE HOLLOW MEN"
"THE STUFFED MEN"
— Chris Marker
*All works are subject to availability; all prices are subject to change.
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