Berenice Abbott, Florence Henri, Germaine Krull… The Amsab collection: a revelation
Few people have heard of the Belgian magazine Variétés. It was short lived – only two years – but what an intense two years! The biggest names in inter-war photography collaborated with this monthly magazine, which only produced 25 issues. The exhibition takes us on a journey into the artistic avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century, notably Surrealism. The magazine was published in Brussels between May 1928 and April 1930. Its predecessor, the magazine Le Centaure, described Variétés as follows: “Everything is unexpected. When you open this magazine, you don’t know and you can’t even guess what is in it. And what you find is always new.” Variétés surprises by the diversity of fields and subjects it covered and by the quality of its photographs, which play a major role, announcing the boom of illustrated magazines in the 1930s.
The exhibition was created from the archives of Vooruit, a newspaper from Ghent that disappeared in 1978. Transferred to Amsab (Social History Institute in Ghent), these archives were found some 20 years ago among 150,000 press images. The founder of the magazine, Paul-Gustave Van Hecke was an art lover, close to socialist circles. He never stopped promoting Belgian and international avant-garde art during the inter-war period and participated in the creation of various magazines, the Époque gallery and even a fashion house. He launched Variétés. Revue mensuelle illustrée de l’esprit contemporain in 1928 with E.L.T. Mesens, pianist, poet and founder of the Belgian surrealist movement. They published articles on new artistic trends without making any distinctions between art disciplines. Texts, photographs and illustrations were assembled like a surrealist collage.
Van Hecke wanted to highlight photography, a medium synonymous with the modern world, and approached Man Ray, Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Berenice Abbott, Eli Lotar, André Kertész, Germaine Krull and Florence Henri, favouring photographers that gave room to visual experimentation and the unexpected. Through the choice of viewpoints and framing, they reflect, through the image, the power and enthusiasm that characterized the emerging 20th century. The magazine, which also featured painters of the time, folded following the crash of 1929.
The exhibition, which brings together all 25 issues of the magazine with more than 170 original photographs, is co-produced by Amsab – Institute for Social History, Ghent, Tijdsbeeld & Pièce Montée, Ghent and Rencontres d’Arles. The exhibition is curated by Sam Stourdzé, in collaboration with Ronny Gobyn and Damarice Amao..