René Burri, Explosions of Sight

29.01 – 01.06.2020



René Burri was born in 1933 and died in 2014 in Zurich, Switzerland. Throughout his life, he was on the front line of global history. He joined Magnum Photos in 1955, becoming one of its members in 1959. Over the course of his career spanning almost sixty years, he travelled to Europe, the Middle East, North, Central and South America, Japan and China, recording with lucidity and acuity most of the momentous events of the second half of the 20th century. Numerous influential people were also captured by his lens including Picasso, Le Corbusier, Niemeyer, Barragan, Giacometti and Tinguely. In 1963, he produced his iconic portrait of “Che au cigare” (Che with Cigar), which brought him to the attention of the public.

From January to May 2020, curated by Marc Donnadieu and Mélanie Bétrisey, the institution has scheduled a new retrospective of his life’s work entitled René Burri, Explosions of Sight. The bonds between René Burri and the Musée de l’Elysée are strong, and anchored in the institution’s history. In 1985, when it was opened as a “museum for photography”, Burri attended for his friend Charles-Henri Favrod. Two years later, his photographic project “Les Ruines du futur” (The Ruins of the Future) was presented. In 2004, the museum hosted his first retrospective. In 2013, Burri decided to set up a foundation in his name at the Musée de l’Elysée.

This new exhibition is the culmination of diligent research and studies carried out by the Musée de l’Elysée teams since 2013 on the entire René Burri collection in family archives and the Magnum Photos archives in Paris and New York. It aims to offer a new perspective on all Burri’s myriad creative activities throughout his life. It reveals a more personal and secret side to one of the most influential photojournalists of our time with a great many often previously unpublished documents: contact sheets, study prints, films, models for books, exhibition projects, notebooks, collages, watercolours, drawings, etc.

Based on a long, chronological “Lifeline” leading visitors through the nine rooms of the Musée de l’Elysée’s two exhibition levels, this project develops twelve “Focal Points”, each showcasing a decisive element of Burri’s creative process in the broadest sense of the term: Cinema; Structures; Myself and the Others; Che; China; Television; Magnum; Book; One World; Colour; Collages; Drawings. In this exhibition, René Burri is shown to be modern and inventive, committed and facetious, curious and generous, unifying and a mentor, a rebel and poet, impassioned and fascinating and above all, particularly explosive!

Opening : Tuesday, January 28, 2020



Marc Donnadieu, Curator in Chief, and Mélanie Bétrisey, René Burri Collection Coordinator, Curator Assistant, Collections department, Musée de l'Elysée, assited by Jessica Mondego.


Video by


René Burri, a multidisciplinary artist


As part of the exhibition René Burri, Explosions of Sight, le Musée de l'Elysée invited former colleagues and friends of the artist to share their memories. They evoke the multiple facets of René Burri's personality and work.

Far from confining his practice to photography alone, René Burri's production ranges from filmmaking to the graphic design of photographic books, as well as collage, drawing and watercolour.

• Mélanie Bétrisey, René Burri Collection Coordinator
• Werner Jeker, friend of René and graphic designer with whom he has collaborated on several projects
• Dino Simonett, friend of René and publisher with whom he has collaborated on several books
• Bruno Barbey, photographer and a member of the Magnum agency

Interviews conducted by journalist Florence Grivel, for the Musée de l'Elysée, December 2019.



The exhibition René Burri, Explosions of Sight receives the generous support of PKB Privatbank, privileged partner of the Musée de l'Elysée and a partner of the René Burri archive, the FONDATION COROMANDEL, the Loterie Romande, Pro Helvetia, Fondation suisse pour la culture and the Cercle du Musée de l'Elysée.

The exhibition catalogue is supported by the Société Académique Vaudoise – Fondation Fern Moffat.

Education activities in the exhibition spaces during the First Weekend of the Month are carried out in collaboration with UNIL.


René Burri

René Burri, Explosions of Sight provides never-before- seen insights into the worldfamous Magnum photo journalist’s life and work. Beyond the iconic images that gained him international renown, the many different facets of René Burri’s oeuvre are represented here: black-and-white and colour photogra...
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