Paris, Musée de l’Homme, 1936

Erwin Blumenfeld was interested by primitive art. He arrived in Paris at the beginning of 1936 and went to photograph the African and Aztec sculptures at the Musée de l’Homme (now Museum of quai Branly-Museum of Arts Premiers). His visitor’s card to the museum has his portrait by Henri Lehmann on it.

One of his subjects was Gu, God of war.  In one image Gu is holding the hand of Michel Leiris the anthropologist. On another take with Leiris it can be noted that the sculpture is outdoors, presumably in front of the Trocadero, possibly just returning from the 1935/36 exhibit of African Art at the Museum of Modern Art in the United States.

Man Ray photographed the whole Dogon wood sculpture of a hermaphrodite from Soudan (Mali), whereas Blumenfeld framed just its head to a striking effect as « portrait of a sculpture ».

The purportedly aztec crystal head, that was much later ascertained to be a 19th century sculpture in crystal provided by an antiquarian Eugène Boban, was photographed many times under all possible angles. It was thought to be an authentic aztec head representing the god of death, Mictlantecutli until the 1990’s.

These three photographs found their place in the book « My 100 best photos » composed by Blumenfeld and published posthumously (Benteli Verlag 1979, Rizzoli 1981, White Note 2013). In this book, the photographs are placed by pairs.

Gu faces Eugene O’Neill, the playwright. The Sudan Hermaphrodite’s head is opposite Laurette Taylor, actress in the Glass Menagerie in 1945 and the fake aztec crystal skull faces Hitler’s Mug shot from 1933, a montage in which Blumenfeld superimposed a human skull and Hitler’s portrait found in the press.

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