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Best Of 2021 : Les Douches La Galerie : In Praise of the Hand


Les Douches la Galerie presents L’éloge de la main [In Praise of the Hand], a collective exhibition crossing various movements that investigated the motif of the hand in photography. This exhibition brings together fifty prints from the works of twenty-seven artists spanning the period from 1925 to 2018.

The hand, a dreaded exercise in painting and drawing, became a recurring technical and symbolic motif from photography’s earliest stages onward. Since a shot makes it possible to represent the hand as a fragment, isolated from the rest of the body, the hand henceforth became a subject in its own right.

It is the ultimate personification of an appendage, signing and affixing its digital imprint. On its own, it metonymically shapes its owner’s portrait. In fact, Beatrice Abbott chose to represent Jean Cocteau, who was so fascinated by hands that he made them speak in his film The Blood of a Poet (1930), through his two hands harmoniously resting on a hat. In Ernst Haas’ portrait of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, the hand also stands for the subject’s profession and talent, in which we search for signs of his virtuosity. Accompanied by its sculpted double, this emblematic hand underlines his creative force.

Often presented in still lifes or associated to industrial objects, hands also express an artistic subjectivity allied or opposed to mechanical production. Jean-Philippe Charbonnier’s hands, for example, are fused to a typewriter, thus becoming a cog, while Denise Bellon’s tiny intertwined hands sow doubt through their artificiality.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, dematerialised, ghostly hands are a favoured motif of experimental photography. Cut off from reality, translucid, the hands of André Steiner, Roger Catherineau, Maurice Tabard and more recently Thierry Balanger present a familiar subject in an unknown, almost phantasmagorical version. In Soluble Fish (1934), André Breton was already able to write, ‘I took this hand in mine; raising it to my lips, I suddenly noticed that it was transparent and that through it one could see the great garden where the most experienced divine creatures go to live’1. In surrealist photography, the cut off hand is a symbol of the liberated psyche, destabilising all logical meaning. In fact, the First Manifesto of Surrealism states that, ‘It will glove your hand, burying therein the profound M with which the word Memory begins’2. The glove is a surrealist attribute and poetic subject that conceals at the same time as it dresses. For Germaine Krull and Jean Moral it is both body and object.

Suspended in its motion, the hand is also the ultimate motif for the medium of snapshots. Tom Arndt is thus able to capture the passion of a political gesture, and Arlene Gottfried the silent language of tenderness and love. John Baldessari isolates, then joins, contradictory gestures, while Hervé Guibert reveals the simplicity of an intimate, routine gesture.

In fact, it is the hand’s duality that makes it the ultimate photographic subject. A portrait of a hand doubles it, prolonging the mirror effect already produced by the pair of hands that are symmetrically positioned. Pierre Boucher recreates this duality through reflections, and André Steiner evokes an ambiguous reading through echo and differing scales. And finally, Bruce Wrighton adroitly composes frontal portraits around a false symmetry whose fulcrum is the point where hands join.

Autonomous fragments in experimentation or essential details of a captured moment, hands are presented in this exhibition as a photographic object that examines the medium’s technical specificities, running the length of its history.

Artists : Berenice Abbott, Tom Arndt, Thierry Balanger, John Baldessari, Denise Bellon, Pierre Boucher, Sébastien Camboulive, Roger Catherineau, Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Louis Faurer, Arlene Gottfried, Hervé Guibert, Ernst Haas, Sid Kaplan, François Kollar, Germaine Krull, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Ray K. Metzker, Jean Moral, Albert Rudomine, Roger Schall, André Steiner, Maurice Tabard, Val Telberg, Raoul Ubac, Sabine Weiss, Bruce Wrighton.


L’éloge de la main [In Praise of the Hand]

March 11th – June 12th, 2021

Les Douches La Galerie

5, rue de Legouvé

75010 Paris





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