Arnaud Maggs (1926 – 2012) was an artist of rigour, crystal-clear vision, humour, and a humbling sense of awe for singular moments and the connections between them. Like other great artists before him, Maggs leaves behind a wealth of artistic creation that at once challenges and adds to our understanding of the photographic medium. The Scotiabank Photography Award (SPA) exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) features a selection of work handpicked and poignantly curated by the artist during his final months: Kunstakademie (1980), André Kertész: 144 Views (1980), The Dada Portraits (2010), and After Nadar: Pierrot Turning (2012). Through the exhibition, the ever-introspective Maggs allows us a glimpse of the photographer himself.
In Arnaud Maggs (Steidl, 2013), Maia-Mari Sutnik notes that Maggs “achieved a landmark” with his portrait work in 1980. Assembled into a large-scale grid installation—a format now synonymous with the artist—Kunstakademie is a series of 148 black-and-white frontal and profile-view portraits of students at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Germany. These austere presentations are both a taxonomy of the human face and a visual archive of a student group associated with a now-famous school closely linked to the history of conceptual art. The never-previously shown André Kertész: 144 Views similarly puts viewers face-to-face with a seminal figure of 20th-century photography. Maggs’ working process, the sequential portrait, captures images of Kertész turning in front of the camera: front, profile, 3/4, back view, and so on.
Although Maggs returned recently to portraiture after years of working with found objects and ideas related to history, collecting, and archives, these themes remain ever-present. As noted in an interview by Robert Enright with the artist (Border Crossings, 2012), though The Dada Portraits appear to be representational portraits of Dada artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, they are actually based on re-purposed architectural drawings of escaliers (stairs) from 1850. After Nadar: Pierrot Turning is part of the larger After Nadar series of self-portraits recalling Nadar’s mid-1850s photographs of the mime Charles Deburau. It features Maggs dressed in costume as Pierrot, pivoting for the camera just as his own subjects had done so many times for him. Always one for layers of historical reference, the piece also alludes to a Nadar self-portrait from ca. 1864.
In 1973, when he was 47 and a successful illustrator and fashion photographer, Maggs decided to become an artist. The production of his first major work, 64 Portrait Studies (1976 – 78), laid the foundation for an artistic practice to which he remained devoted. His career was one of continuous development, remarkable technical expertise, incredible attention to detail, and visual brilliancy. Maggs adopted photography as an artistic tool to document people and objects. The history of photography, archival research, and process were all significant to him. In Spring & Arnaud (a 2013 documentary film by Marcia Connolly and Katherine Knight) Maggs, addressing his work, says fittingly: “For me, it’s a record of myself, of my existence.”
Doina Popescu Director, Ryerson Image Centre SPA nominator of Arnaud Maggs
Rachel Verbin Project Research Fellow Ryerson Image Centre
The Scotiabank Photography Award is designed to raise the international profile of Canada’s leading photographic artists. For more information please visit: www.scotiabankphotoaward.com
Presented by Scotiabank. Organized by the Ryerson Image Centre. Exhibition design by Arnaud Maggs with Barr Gilmore.