As a young artist in interwar Europe, Blumenfeld was at the forefront of modernist image-making. His Dadaist collages, produced between 1919 and 1933, are variously sly, satirical and politically astute. Blumenfeld’s subversive spirit is evident as much in their content as in their form: with crayons, pastel, pen and ink; newspaper cutouts; cigarette wrappers; and even calling cards at this employ, the artist confronts the profound social upheaval of his moment.
In the early 1930s, Blumenfeld became increasingly involved with photography. His unconventional approach to the medium captured the attention of noted image-makers; a meeting with Cecil Beaton proved to be a turning point in his artistic career. “Here at last,” wrote Beaton, “is a fresh and clear mind…(Blumenfeld’s) pictures are not of Vogue quality, for they are much more serious, too provoking, and better than fashion.” This experimental character defines the pivotal nature of Blumenfeld’s European output. Visceral and challenging, his early collages and photographs constitute a sobering exploration of the human spirit.
Previously unseen in Canada, the collages and photographs on view in From Dada to Vogue expand our understanding of Blumenfeld’s position in the history of Modernism. He was not only one of the last century’s most influential photographers; he was one of its great artists.
Erwin Blumenfeld (b. 1897, Berlin; d. 1969, Rome) brought a radical, avant-garde vision to his work in portraiture, nudes, fashion and advertising, redefining the potential of his medium. Until 1939, he worked in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris, and was a key proponent of Dutch Dada. After two years in a French internment camp, Blumenfeld immigrated to New York in 1941. There, he shot fashion spreads and hundreds of covers for the Condé Nast family of publications, effectively shaping the look of 1940s and ‘50s America.