About the Marc Vaux Archive / in collaboration with Centre Pompidou - Mnam CCI and Bibliothèque Kandinsky
- Glass plate of a Marc Vaux’s photograph of a plaster (circa 1936-1938) by Juana Muller © Centre Pompidou – Mnam – Bibliothèque Kandinsky – Fonds Marc Vaux Image : Ellie Armon Azoulay, 2015
ABOUT THE MARC VAUX ARCHIVE
Villa Vassilieff is currently developing a conversation with the Bibliothèque Kandinsky at the National Museum of Modern Art, Paris, to invite researchers and artists to engage in dialogue with the Marc Vaux Archive. Marc Vaux, a figure of Montparnasse, produced more than 250 000 photographic glass plates, which are currently held in the collection of the Centre Pompidou. They provide a new perspective on the social life of art-works and artists – famous and unknown – that he photographed between the 1930s and the 1970s. In 2016, the Centre Pompidou began undertaking the digitization of the Marc Vaux archive: a mammoth task, with many issues at stake concerning conservation and
preservation, but also historiography, museology and classification. How can one approach this archive today, in all its rich complexity? What is it in the images of Marc Vaux that considers our present?
With Didier Schulmann (Curator at the National Museum of Modern Art and Head of the Kandinsky Library), Catherine Tiraby (Archivist at the photographic collections, Bibliothèque Kandinsky), Stéphanie Rivoire (Archive Curator, Bibliothèque Kandinsky), Pat Elifritz (Candidate, CCS Bard) and Ellie Armon Azoulay (Associated Researcher, Villa Vassilieff).
- Anonymous, Marc Vaux in front of his first studio, 23 avenue du Maine, Paris, 1919 © Centre Pompidou – Mnam – Bibliothèque Kandinsky – Fonds Marc Vaux
WHO WAS MARC VAUX?
By Ellie Armon Azoulay, Virginie Bobin and Didier Schulmann
The answer to this question varies with each visit to the archive, housed in the Centre Pompidou since the photographer passed away in 1971. At first, it appears as a spectacular, perfectly structured pile of thousands of card-board boxes consisting of photographic glass plates. Family names — at times misspelled — for more than 6000 artists who were active in Paris between the early 20s and the end of the 60s whose studios Marc Vaux visited to photograph their works, have been clumsily painted with gouache in capital letters. The archive, a wall of names, of forty years of artistic creation in Paris, is a memorial of sorts. The Marc Vaux Archive unveils an archival landscape of such polyphony that one can only wonder about its author: what encyclopedic project could produce such an atlas?
Alongside some of the most well-known names amongst 20th century artists, together with other unknown names, French and otherwise, suggests that the archive contains reproductions of artworks that never made it to the walls of museums. These photographs provide a source for another art history, which encompasses a much wider community of artists than the one accessed through the eurocentric canons of institutions, cultivated aesthetic taste and the market, which still prevails in commonly shared narratives. However, beyond artists’ portraits, reproductions of artworks, studios and exhibitions photographs, the archive testifies for the artistic and political upheavals within which Paris was the stage, not unlike the displacement of artworks from the Louvre collection in 1939, under the threat of the war. A war resistant, a chronicler of the workers, Marc Vaux was committed equally to supporting artists, notably by creating the Foyer des Artistes (1946-70) and, in 1951, the first Musée du Montparnasse at 10, rue de l’Arrivée.
Despite of the richness of his archive, Marc Vaux remained a secondary character of art history, whose role transpires through discreet mentions, like in a letter written by Wilfredo Lam, who insists on the importance of Marc Vaux’s photographs to apprehend his work and prepare for his exhibitions. However, Marc Vaux’s archive shows his rigorous attention to documentation, preservation and memory, as witnessed by his note “My first photography”, on a print from 1913; and a war landscape marked with a spot where he was injured in 1915 as a soldier. Marc Vaux often re-photographed existing images, sometimes taken by others, to conserve them. He left behind 250 000 photographic glass plates: as many promises, recollections and potential readings of where to find important and significant counterpoints to the great narratives of institutions.