The MEP gives a Carte Blanche to Thomas Mailaender, with his first major retrospective in Paris. The multimedia artist, who pushes the boundaries of photographic experimentation by exploring a wide variety of images and a range of innovative and original processes, will take over both floors of the MEP.

The exhibition

Based in Marseille, Mailaender undertakes a wide range of obsessive and passionate visual research through the use of different photographic source material and techniques, deploying highly unusual materials and installations in an institutional context. Situated at the intersection of several disciplines, Mailaender’s artistic practice questions the role and primary function of the image through a diverse multidisciplinary approach to photography, and its associated archival tendencies.

His installations, which are often monumental in scale, question the place of the image in our society, and its materiality, by incorporating not only photographs found online, but also those found in flea markets and garage sales. An avid collector of anonymous images, Thomas Mailaender has assembled an archive of over 11,000 documents in a major collection entitled “The Fun Archaeology”, a substantial part of which will be on show. Exploring digital archives, the artist draws attention to unusual vernacular images that highlight the absurdity of human behavior and the impact of online sharing platforms. Symptomatic of our ultra-connected societies, the subjects studied by Mailaender explore the role and primary function of the image as a cultural object, and its reappropriation for artistic purposes.

This Carte Blanche will feel a little like an experimental photographic laboratory, the diversity of the visual proposals questioning our relationships with images and the daily consequences of their circulation and consumption. Led by the artist’s interventions, the exhibition will put the legitimacy of creative processes at the centre of its concerns and by moving away from the traditional frameworks of visual display, Les Belles Images represents a major innovative approach for the MEP as a photography museum.

The exhibition will bring together a vast array of pieces with work specially designed for the show, such as “Fail Anthology”, “Extreme Retouch” and the “Chemical Room”, for example, which will be covered with photographs exposed directly onto the walls. Spread over the two floors of the MEP, the exhibition will include “Les Belles Images”, the eponymous series in which the artist redeploys press agency photographs with ceramic frames, as well as his major series “Extreme Tourism”, “Gone Fishing”, and “Illustrated People”. Finally, the “Life and Adventures of a Silver Woman on Planet earth” revisits the life and commitment of Rosemary Jacobs, an American activist who was a victim of the ravages of silver nitrate, using photography to document her story and denounce the use of this compound for medical purposes.

Thomas Mailaender

Thomas Mailaender © David Luraschi

Thomas Mailaender was born in Marseille in 1979. He studied at the Arts Décoratifs in Paris and then at the Villa Arson in Nice. He lives and works between Marseille and Paris and is represented by Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. Known for using a broad range of different techniques and a variety of materials, he reappropriates images from the Internet or from his own archives. An obsessive collector with a passion for immersive installations, Thomas Mailaender uses his ingenuity to design creative exhibitions that always combine humour and originality.

His work has been shown in numerous French and international institutions and presented in group exhibitions including Do Disturb (Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2017), Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream (Saatchi Gallery, London, 2017–18), Performing for the Camera (Tate Modern, London, 2016), From Here On (Rencontres d’Arles, 2011), Back to the Future (FOAM, Amsterdam, 2018), Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes (SFMOMA, 2019) and a walk-through installation of The Fun Archaeology (MUCEM, Marseille, 2021). His first European retrospective, The Fun Archive, was organised at the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf in 2017, followed by two other solo exhibitions, Ultraviolets at La Chambre, Strasbourg in 2022 and Lumière Passion at the Centre Photographique Marseille in 2022.

Thomas Mailaender’s works are held in institutions around the world, including the Musée National de l’Histoire de l’Immigration and the Fonds national d’art contemporain in Paris, the Musée régional d’art contemporain Occitanie / Pyrénées-Méditerranée in Sérignan, and MONA in Tasmania.

He has also published numerous artists’ books and has undertaken several residencies, notably at the Société Française de Photographie (2013), the Archive of Modern Conflict (2014), and LVMH Métiers d’Art (2018). He also curated the exhibitions Hara Kiri (Rencontres d’Arles, 2016) and Photo Pleasure Palace with Erik Kessels (Unseen, Amsterdam, 2017). In 2015, he received the PhotoBook of the Year award at the 2015 Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards.

Thomas Mailaender © David Luraschi

  • De la série « Illustrated People », 2013 © Thomas Mailaender

  • De la série « Extreme Tourism », 2011 © Thomas Mailaender

  • De la série « Gone Fishing », 2016 © Thomas Mailaender

  • De la série « Bookworm », 2021 © Thomas Mailaender

Partners and Patrons

Institutional partner

Partners and Patrons


This exhibition is organised in partnership with :