Brassaï, Pierre Dac devant un micro, 1935, collection particulière – Brassaï

Pierre Dac. Du côté d'ailleurs

From Thursday 15 October 2020 to Sunday 25 April 2021

The mahJ will be showing the first exhibition entirely devoted to Pierre Dac (1893-1975). More than 250 family archive documents and excerpts from films and television and radio programmes will highlight the life and work of this master of the absurd, one of the founder figures of contemporary French humour.

Obligatory reservation online, including for those eligible for free admission and Amis du mahJ members. Please note that this exhibition is best suited for a francophone audience.

Who knows that in the 1950s he invented the “schmilblick”, an object with a Yiddish name “that is absolutely useless and so can be used for everything”? Who remembers that he created the “biglotron”, “the discovery the most scandalously forgotten by the scientific, military and religious authorities of our time”? And who recalls the scenes of the hilarious radio series he co-wrote, Bons baisers de partout, broadcast on France Inter from 1965 to 1974? From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, Pierre Dac’s imagination and inventiveness provided both learned and popular French culture with the extraordinary comical arsenal that this exhibition will help rediscover.

André Isaac was born at Châlons-sur-Marne, into an Alsatian Jewish family that chose France after the province’s annexation by Germany in 1871. He fought on the front during the First World War, determined that Alsace-Lorraine should again be French. After the Armistice, he turned to cabaret and his sketches, songs and above all his “thoughts” brought him overnight success. In the 1930s he produced the first radio comedy programmes (La Société des Loufoques, La Course au Trésor, etc.), then founded the weekly L’Os à moelle, whose circulation rose to 400,000. Among the first to join the Resistance, he reached London in 1943, where in Les Français parlent aux Français, broadcast by the BBC, he fought a merciless war of words against Radio Paris. After the war he met Francis Blanche, with whom he created Sans issue! at Les Trois Baudets, the famous “Sâr Rabindranath Duval” sketch and Signé Furax, the most listened-to serial in French radio history. He ran for the presidential elections in 1965 as head of the Mouvement ondulatoire unifié (MOU). In 1972, three years before he died, the man who had proclaimed himself the “king of the absurd” published his Pensées and inspired a new generation.

The exhibition highlights Pierre Dac’s musical and literary creativity, his sources, the role of parody and satire, his very diverse means of expression and notably his use of all the new media (film, radio, television) whilst remaining faithful to cabaret and theatre. It also evokes the generations of humourists who were his travelling companions at one time or another.  Several of them, such as Francis Blanche, Jean Yanne and René Goscinny, joined the pantheon of French humour.

Finally, the exhibition situates Pierre Dac’s work alongside that of masters of the absurd such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco and Roland Dubillard, who owed him both his butcher’s slang and Freudian wit, and explores resonances of his Jewishness in his personal, public and artistic life.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of events in the auditorium and guided visits. The catalogue is published by Editions Gallimard.

Curators: Anne Hélène Hoog and Jacques Pessis


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Maya Zack (née en 1976), Black and white rule (2011), image extraite d'une vidéo de 17 min. 

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Fourteen photo booth photographs pinned to a wall, glass plate, 20th century 
© mahJ collection, gift of Ariel Fenster

Saturday 15 May – Sunday 10 October 2021



Obligatory reservation online, including for those eligible for free admission and Amis du mahJ members.
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