André Steiner at mahJ, what modernity!

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Lily Steiner, 1934, Chalon-sur-Saône, musée Nicéphore Niépce © Martine Husson © Nicole Steiner-Bajolet

Every museum in Paris is trying to have exhibitions with a theme related to the Olympic Games, with more or less success. Musée d’Art et d’Histone du Judaisme  shows a small but particularly attractive exhibition of photographs by Hungarian artist André Steiner (1901-1978) who emigrated to France in 1928. Trained as a scientist at the Technische Universität in Vienna, he is one of the first users of Leica cameras  in 1924, and takes a series of naked shots of his future wife Léa Sasson, Lily. As a former decathlon champion in 1928 and a swimming coach in Austria, he decides to concentrate on sports pictures and becomes a specialist of the body, often naked. His pictures are strikingly modern and the curator of the show, François Cheval, helped acquire a great number of his works for Musée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône.

Lily Steiner, 1933, Chalon sur Saône, musée Nicéphore Niepce

When he met Nicole Bajolet in Strasbourg in the late 1990’s, François Cheval was shocked to hear that he had gotten some dates wrong in his show. She then admitted to being Steiner’s daughter and this encounter led to a book on the photographer and many acquisitions of his works for the Museum. She appears as baby in the book. But here at mahJ, there are only adults and many of them flying in the air or diving, dancing and boxing. Very interested in the notion of effort, Steiner photographs the body as a “New Vision” artist in search of the perfection of the gesture with all its muscles strained like in the above photo of his wife climbing a rock, naked. WWI is behind with its wounded bodies and photography enhances the beauty of sports.

Advertisement for a bathing suit, circa 1936, Paris, Centre Pompidou © Martine Husson
© Nicole Steiner-Bajolet

At 19, Steiner fought along the communist forces in Hungary and is therefore often inspired by popular movements, like the “Front Populaire”  which obtained paid holidays in France in 1936. Workers started flocking to the beaches on their bikes and played out-of-door games, which he photographed. He also became interested in ballet and took pictures of Serge Lifar in 1934, when the Ukrainian dancer was running the Paris Opera ballet. He divorced Lily, a favorite model for his pictures, in 1938.

Lady Golfer, Chalon-sur Saône, Musée Nicéphore Niepce

His pictures of the body are theatralised and turn it into a modern instant image. Steiner’s success corresponds to the development of the press interested in sports. Like this summer for the Olympics, sportsmen became semi gods… After the war, André Steiner marries a woman from Brittany whom he met at the communist party (PCF) and they had a boy and a daughter.

Goal keeper, 1936, Paris, Centre Pompidou, © Martine Husson © Nicole Steiner-Bajolet

There is a large collection of Steiner photographs at Centre Pompidou which belonged to the Yves Rocher collection and were bequeathed but mahJ, which owns  8 000 photos  does not own any. This might change after this show, since Steiner’s three children still own many prints.

The exhibition is on until September 22. The book “Ce que l’on n’a pas fini d’aimer” is available in all bookstores.

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