Real Worlds: Brassaï, Arbus, Goldin

at MOCA Grand Avenue (Through September 3, 2018)
Reviewed by Emily Nimptsch

Borrowing from its vast and momentous photography collection, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) is currently exploring themes of intimacy, non-traditional relationships, and marginalized people through Real Worlds: Brassaï, Arbus, Goldin. This gripping group exhibition centers around images from Brassaï’s provocative 1976 photobook, The Secret Paris of the 30’s, Arbus’s posthumous treatise, Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (1972), and Nan Goldin’s famed autobiographical slideshow, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986). These honest and intimate depictions of young lovers, prostitutes, and gathered friends form a timeless bond between viewer and subject and reveal the perennial desire to be loved and accepted.

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Brassaï, Streetwalker near the Place d’Italie, c. 1932. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Ralph M. Parsons FoundationPhotography Collection.

The earliest photographs in Real Worlds come to us from Brassaï (a.k.a. Gyula Halász), a Hungarian-born sculptor and photographer who famously documented Paris’s seedy nightclubs, cafés and brothels in the 1930s. With his pseudonym extracted from Brassó, the city of his birth, Brassaï (1899–1984) surrounded himself with a community of the city’s finest artists and writers, including Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Henry Miller. Setting his camera upon the nocturnal underworld of Montparnasse, he compassionately captured the inner lives of streetwalkers, criminals, and nightclub patrons. Miller even referred to this former journalist as the “eye of Paris.” However, with World War II and the Nazi Invasion of Paris on the horizon, these photographs represent the last gasp of France’s peacetime frivolity, freedom, and progressivism…

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Nan Goldin, Picnic on the Esplanade, Boston, 1973. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Nimoy Family Foundation.

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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