17th December- 27th February
Opening hours: Daily 11 am- 8 pm
Admission: Adults 10,000 won, children 8,000/ 5,000 won
“Who is Robert Delpire?” is the first question that sprung to mind upon reading the title of one of the current exhibitions at Seoul Arts Centre, ‘Robert Delpire and Friends.’ As it turns out, Robert Delpire’s friends are far better known than he is; Delpire being a publisher and curator, and his ‘friends’ including an impressive selection of extremely influential 20th century photographers; Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, William Klein, Robert Doisneau and Brassai to name but a few. He also happens to be married to Sarah Moon, another photography heroine. Even the most fleeting of visits to this exhibition would confirm that this unsung hero, who is a member of the prestigious photographer cooperative Magnum, and has played an essential role in introducing his photographer friends to the world over the last 60 years, is completely deserving of this retrospective.
Delpire’s colourful career began in 1951, when, at the age of 23, he began carving out his life-long profession as a publisher, abandoning his medical career in favour of publishing ‘Neuf,’ a luxury, glossy art magazine for doctors. ‘Neuf,’ was among the first publications to show works by some afore-mentioned friends of his, kick-starting their careers. Other achievements most importantly include publishing Robert Frank’s definitive photo document ‘The Americans,’ in 1958, known for its ‘street photography’ style and satirical look at the tired cliche of the American Dream, and for publishing ‘Photo Poche,’ the first paperback photography series on significant photographers of our times.
‘Robert Delpire & Friends,’ is a wonderful collection of largely black and white photographs and books which Delpire has published, including editions of ‘Neuf,’ ‘The Americans,’ and ‘Photo Poche,’ in multi-national, translated guises, re-iterating their significance as accessible documents of modern and contemporary photography greats. There are also a vast amount of hardback photo-documentary books on a huge selection of countries which act as ethnographic records, published in collaboration with, for example, Heni Cartier-Bresson and Werner Bischof. A small corner of this exhibition adds a deeper social dimension to Delpire’s work by showcasing some of the calendars he’s been putting together for Amnesty since 1988. A selection of his short films play on loop, including a marvelous compilation of footage shot by Sarah Moon for her pivotal design work for Cacharel. There’s also a section for visitors to sit and leaf through some of Delpire’s numerous publications whilst marvelling at the the subject of this exhibition.
There are 52 artists represented by 185 photos, 150 photobooks and four short films in this exhibition which is a rather a lot of printed material. Unfortunately, it’s not backed up by much written information, even in Korean, meaning that visitors might leave feeling unsatisfied that they have benefited fully from the works on show. For Korean visitors, however, there are audio guides available.
Despite lack of written information, ‘Robert Delpire & Friends,’ is a most excellent tribute to a man who is well overdue the recognition he deserves for introducing some of the most influential photographers of the 20th century to the public. Through the selection of works shown, which he nurtured and heralded, the viewer gets a great sense of a man who is intelligent, passionate and dedicated to photography, not to mention very humble, having managed to side-step any mass critical acclaim… until now. Snippets of a humorous character shine through by way of inclusion of his own photographs, for example, ‘Le Pains de Picasso.’ Who is Robert Delpire? A more thorough and deserving exploration of this question awaits you at Seoul Arts Centre.