The other Cartier

                                           Chez Mondrian, by André Kertész

Because the subjunctive isn’t confusing enough, there is the question of French names. They are not the most creative with names, which means anytime a single girlfriend of mine meets a new Frenchman, we ask her, “So, its Jean-who?” It may be Jean Marc, Jean Phillip, or Jean Jacques, but chances are high that there is a Jean somewhere in there.

This gets even more confusing when it spills over to the naming of institutions. Take, for instance, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. Even the locals get confused and very few people know that this little gem of an exhibition space even exists. Mostly because, it is just a few blocks away from the large, glass encased Fondation Cartier, the monumental, contemporary art space sponsored by the internationally renowned jeweler.

Recently, my friend Kate of Mais Oui Paris was in town and raving about the Howard Greenberg exhibit at the Fondation Cartier-Bresson, so I thought it was time to discover the space. The next Saturday was cold an dreary. I prodded Mr French out of bed and we were off.

Founded by Cartier-Bresson, his wife Martine Franck and their daughter in 2003, and situated in an Impasse in the 14th, this beautifully airy, Art Nouveau building boasts an interior space of that is all about light, as it should be for a photographer. The galleries themselves are out of the light, both protecting the photos and showing them in the medium grey the photographer had in mind as he developed each print. There are three floors, each with one small gallery.

Presently, the Foundation is hosting the Howard Greenberg collection. Greenberg is a New Yorker who started out as a gallery owner at Woodstock, and soon found himself collecting mid-century American photography. Owning a gallery gave him access to some of the masterpieces of our time, making for an astounding collection of contemporary icons.

Do you recall an image of about half a dozen construction workers lunching on a steel beam, hanging in midair above the New York skyline? The photo is in the show. The Dorothea Lange photo of a migrant working mother during the Depression is there, too. The Hungarians, Kertész and Capa are represented beside American greats like Walker Evans and Irving Penn.

View of Notre Dame, by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Beyond admiring one perfectly balanced, or intentional imbalanced, photo after another, I was impressed by how many women photographers were represented; Ruth Orkin, Lisette Model, Margaret Burke-White are just some of the women I uncovered during our visit. This is remarkably rare in a world dominated by, well, men.

As you climb to the third, and final floor you arrive in a loft space that is flooded with light. Here is a permanent collection of Cartier Bresson’s work, with a living room set-up for reviewing various photography books. If you speak French, art historians, critics, curators, and famous photographers come to this intimate space to give free lectures to anyone wanting to attend. The next lecture is Feb 20 at 18h30, with Agnès Varda. Guess where I’ll be next Wednesday night?

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