09. October 2021
Discovered after her death, the Franco-American is entitled to her great retrospective. But in a place far from the 8th art. Its glory owes nothing to photo museums.
It was above all a beautiful story, with the allure of Hollywood melodrama. A real “melody” with a few scenes of comedy, just to maintain a certain certainty. Discovered after her death, photographer Vivian Maier has thus become, in the eyes of the general public, a sort of Mary Poppins bis. She babysat children in New York or Chicago, while taking tens of thousands of pictures on the streets that no one ever saw. Not even her! The artist only exists in the form of negatives. These are the ones that were acquired, then released, by a young real estate agent, John Maloof. He had found them by chance in an auction room. The owner hadn’t paid for the storage of his boxes in a warehouse for ages. Hence a forced sale for a ridiculous price. The author remains anonymous. It took a miraculously preserved envelope to learn his name. The ace! The day John Maloof launched his search engines, he came across Vivian Maier’s funeral announcement. She had just died in Illinois at the age of 83.
In front of the New York library, circa 1954. Photo Estate Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Howard Greenberg Gallery, Luxembourg Museum, RMN, Paris 2021.
Since then, it is the rise of the work. It all started with a few black and white images from the 1950s and 1960s posted on Flick, an interesting platform. Immediate reactions. Internet users learned to know more and especially to see more. The marketing of the photos could begin. Many galleries are found to operate this fund, while the price of proofs rose rapidly. Museums and public collections were lagging behind. They did not view this discovery favorably for several reasons. The first is of course the fact that they had nothing to do with it. Vivian Maier had not been dubbed by the specialists of the 8th art. The second was due to the fact that there were no “vintages”, drawn by the Franco-American herself. Or they were awful, for lack of basic technical know-how. The last cause of a kind of rejection resulting from the fact that Vivian Maier had not chosen the images intended to become public. The selected selection remains that of John Maloof or Jeffrey Goldstein, the buyer of another Vivian Maier stock.
Popular with the public
It should therefore come as no surprise that the artist, now recognized, has never been presented by a true museum of photography. In Switzerland, nothing at the Elysée in Lausanne or at the Fotomuseum in Winterthur, where we will have seen things much less interesting. In France, no clashes at the “Rencontres” in Arles or at the European House of Photography (MEP) in Paris. The work will be done in galleries and with books. In our country, Vivian will have been presented by a library in Friborg and (successfully) in a peripheral location in Zurich in 2016. I told you about it. In the meantime, there have also been films that have met their viewers. Suffice to say that the recognition of women will be done at the same time. Vivian escaped the professionals to arrive directly at the amateurs. The work has indeed been selling very well since the 2010s … A bit like that of Robert Doisneau.
Big and small feet. Photo Estate Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Howard Greenberg Gallery, Musée du Luxembourg, RMN, Paris 2021.
Nothing revolutionary today for a woman whose glory has reached its zenith. Vivian Maier can be found at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. The visible place, certainly, above all, since it entered the bosom of the Meeting of National Museums. But it is nonetheless a place unrelated to photography. Advertising was done through magazines, mainly women. There are finally a lot of people, too many people in spite of the gauges. Much more than the MEP at the Jeu de Paume, which does not caress their audience in the direction of the hair. Or the professionally discredited popularity, at least in Europe. Vivian Maier is certainly a woman today, which is advantageous. But it is not wrapped in the layer of intellectuality that would ensure its prestige. In what is called “street photography”, Garry Winnogrand or Helen Levitt are much more chic.
The French part
And yet! The exhibition mounted by Anne Morin has something to satisfy the most difficult. This is the reflection of the entire work, which flourished from the years 1952-1953. Contemporary prints, large and neat, are put, when possible, in front of the kinds of ghosts that Vivian Maier obtained as positive in her bathtub. Not all the pictures on the picture rails are famous. The chosen one proves that there is still a lot to be found in these archives of some 130,000 negatives. The artist is not limited to a few dozen exceptional successes, as is in my opinion the case of Diane Arbus. Finally, there is the revelation of colors. Vivian then left her eternal companion the Rolleiflex for a Leica or a Kodak. Having said that, we are a bit here in the “marginalia”, as with his 8 millimeter films. Most of it was done well in the black and white of the 1950s and 1960s, which were undoubtedly more photogenic than the following decades.
Notre-Dame in 1959. Photo Estate of Vivina Maier, Collection Maloof, Galerie Howard Greenberg, Musée du Luxembourg, RMN, Paris 2021.
Logically enough, Anne Morin gave a certain importance to France in her choice. Born in the USA, Vivian spent her childhood with her divorced mother in the Hautes-Alpes. She returned there for her questions of inheritance in 1950-1951. Then in 1959, when she undertook a trip around the world with her savings. The chosen one gives the opportunity to situate the artist in relation to the so-called “humanist” production of the time. She is included in it a little, but without sentimentality or artifice. The gaze retains something direct, frank and a bit ironic. Under her “nanny” uniform, Vivian pierces people she meets with her device. Frontal shock. It is done. One take. You are in my box. The miracle is that it is always (at least in what is seen on display in Luxembourg) at the right time.
“Vivian Maier”, Musée du Luxembourg, 19, rue de Vaugirard, Paris, until January 16, 2022. Tel. 00 331 46 34 31 19, site www.museeduluxembourg.fr Open every day from 10:30 am to 7 pm, Monday until 10 pm. Reservation strongly recommended.