Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Traces of a bygone America -- in Paris

If you live in Paris and don't recognize this photo, you are either wearing sunglasses too much, or are a hermit, or were away on a sunny vacation all winter. But did you know the photo was snapped by an American in Chicago 56 years ago? Art Shay's most infamous photo of the naked fesses of Simone de Beauvoir created a stir in Paris when published on the cover of Le Nouvel Observateur, and every newsstand's promotional billboards, in January. But his photographic oeuvre work goes well beyond the so-called "scandalous" photo. (Unfazed, Beauvoir had apparently turned around and said "You're a bad boy!" when she heard the young Shay snap the picture, but she didn't shut the door of her lover's bathroom.)

A retrospective of Art Shay's photographs, "Traces of a bygone America," opened at the Galerie Albert Loeb in mid-April. I am brokenhearted to have missed the opening and especially sorry not to have met the talented Mr. Shay, 86, who was in town for a week for the event. But those who are in Paris between now and May 24 still have a chance to see his work. The photos in this show are remarkable. Poignant, gritty, witty, sublime, all in Chicago from the 1940s to the 1980s. A mix of celebrities (including Brando, Hemingway, Hefner, Mahalia Jackson, and Marcel Marceau, just to give a sample) and anonymous subjects, they express tenderness, humor, and daily urban life. The images are never complacent or banal: he captures the beauty of humanity in every shot.

Somehow Paris -- home of Ronis, Zucca, Doisneau, Brassai, Boubat et al -- is the perfect setting and juxtaposition for this exhibit.

Do yourself a favor and go see this show.

Galerie Albert Loeb is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm to 7 pm. It is located at 12, rues des Beaux-Arts in the 6e arrondissement.

Telephone 01 46 33 06 87

There is also a blog dedicated to Art Shay's work written and maintained by his family in the U.S.


Marianne said...

This looks great, another good tip, thank you Polly! I am actually looking forward to coming back to Paris now, with lots to look forward to. All the best, M

Unknown said...

Bonjour Polly,
Many interesting links on your blog. I'm making my way through "Beaux Gestes" in which I recognize much of my French husband...

He and I publish Swans Commentary (, on which we just completed a Chicago 1968 edition. Art Shay contributed a wonderful article about his experience, with his observations about Beauvoir, Genet, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al., including many of his fantastic photos of that occasion -- see
"The Democratic Convention -- Chicago 1968" at

Karen Moller attended his opening at the Loeb Gallery, and also sent photos and an article:
"Art Shay's Traces Of A Bygone America" at

Merci Beaucoup --
Jan Baughman
Co-editor, Swans Commentary

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