This exhibition brings together the complete set of 76 works by Edgar Degas (1834–1917) from MASP’s collection, which was last exhibited 14 years ago. The artist’s works were acquired in the 1950s, in the context of the exceptional acquisitions promoted by Pietro Maria Bardi (1900–1999), the museum’s founding director, whose focus was on European art.
Degas’s work has always remained in a place of ambiguity, between tradition and modernity. Its innovative character for its time is evident in the works on display here, especially in Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen (1880), located in the exhibition’s first room. Degas did not intend to portray a beautiful young woman, but rather a teenager working hard to become a ballet dancer at the Paris Opéra. It was during one of his frequent visits to the Opéra that the artist met Marie van Goethem, the ballet student portrayed in his most famous work. Little is known about the life of Marie, the young woman who entered the Paris Opéra Ballet at the age of 13, the daughter of a laundress and a tailor under constant financial stress. Dancers generally came from working-class families who sought social mobility or financial stability through dance. It is known that one of Marie’s sisters was arrested for stealing from a client at the well-known Chat Noir cabaret, located in the bohemian Parisian district of Montmartre. After the episode, Marie began to miss classes and ended up being dismissed from the Opéra. Like her sister, she was probably forced into prostitution by her mother. These are some of the narratives that are often put aside when we look at what is one of emblematic works in Degas’s oeuvre, in the history of sculpture, and in the museum’s collection.
The exhibition is accompanied by large black and white photographs of the bronze sculptures made especially for the exhibition by Sofia Borges. The artist worked throughout 2020 taking countless pictures of works by Degas in MASP’s collection display and storage. With her camera, she reinterprets and conceives of new images for sculptures that are cherished classics in the museum’s collection. Borges’s extraordinary photographs thus reveal, transform, and update Degas’s works in an innovative and radical manner. Her pictures are displayed on Lina Bo Bardi’s glass easels and on panels in the gallery on the first floor of the museum, in close dialogue with the sculptures. The installation of the show, with glass easels and vitrines in a room with a gradient painting and an “infinity curve” painted black offers a truly immersive experience to see Degas anew. Two additional photographs by Borges are displayed on the front and back of an easel (in a new use for MASP’s iconic exhibition display device) in the place where the Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen is usually exhibited, on the museum’s second floor.
The Degas show is part of MASP’s 2020 cycle dedicated to Histories of Dance.
CURATED BY Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director, MASP, Fernando Oliva, Curator, MASP.