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Frank Thiel in THE MAST COLLECTION. A visual alphabet of industry, work and technology

In the early 2000s the MAST Foundation created its space dedicated to industrial and work photography with the acquisition of images from auction houses, individuals, art galleries, photographers and artists. The assets of the Foundation, which already contained a fund that collected films, negatives on glass and on film, photographs, albums, catalogs that were produced in the Coesia group's factories since the early twentieth century, has thus been enriched and has gone beyond the parameters of promotional and documentary material of the companies of the industrial group. Currently the collection has more than 6000 images and videos of famous artists and masters of the lens, as well as a vast selection of photo albums with thousands of images, which, as was usually the case in the industrial area, they are produced by unknown authors or by the company's own technicians who worked as a hobby, but no less representative of the world of work. Today the MAST Collection has established itself as a reference center, unique in the world, for the photography of industry and work. In addition to works from the 19th and early 20th centuries, the collection embraces contemporary photography with a process of value selection and an accurate methodological approach.

A photography department within a Foundation that has a corporate and social welfare mission might seem unusual. From the beginning, the space of the MAST Foundation was designed to make it a distinctive institution where a laboratory dedicated to art, reflection, knowledge and education meet. The desire to represent the industrialization process of society and document its evolution has given impetus and creativity to the initiative, connected to the celebration of production activities and the culture of work, also in its expressions of commitment, effort, exploitation, dignity.

Work inhabits our lives and social, documentary and historiographic photography pays homage to it with a collection of powerful, convincing, unusual and rare images in this little-considered universe. For the first time, the MAST Foundation presents an extraordinary selection of over 500 images, including photographs, albums and videos from its collection, which occupy all the areas dedicated to exhibitions in the MAST spaces. Iconic images of world famous authors, less known or unknown photographers, finalist artists of the MAST Photography Grant visually testify to the world we have mentioned above. The exhibition, due to its complexity, has been structured into 53 chapters dedicated to as many concepts illustrated by the works represented. The whole topic requires a list of terms that are not always exhaustive,

The display form is that of an alphabet that winds on the walls of the three exhibition spaces and which allows to highlight a conceptual system that goes from A for "Abandoned" to W for "Waste", "Water" and "Wealth" (words starting with a Z are rare in English). The alphabet represents a tool that wants to indicate the points of interest and the most intense areas with which the meaning of each image is illuminated. The visual lexicon evokes connections and interactions that can stimulate broader considerations: along the exhibition itinerary in black the themes addressed specifically in the works presented are indicated, clearly those that refer to a further critical thought.

Even for the artists and photographers presented, the numerous chapters can be experienced as villages where old and young, rich and poor, healthy and sick, workers and intellectuals coexist in close contact, or industrial areas where hundreds of professions are concentrated, period meeting of the most disparate perceptions, attitudes, projects.

Documentary photography meets conceptual art; the ancient processes of development and printing on different types of photographic paper, such as the albumin technique, are confronted with the new possibilities offered by technical developments and digital and inkjet innovation; prints dominated by deep black flank works in bright colors. In terms of time, a section linked to the initial stages of industrialization and the history of the art of photography was dedicated only to the 19th century. The importance of the theme of work, the masterpieces that show it and their quality offer a unique opportunity for observation and reflection.  

Curated by Urs Stahel.

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