Posts Tagged ‘German photography

02
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Ilse Bing’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 23rd September 2022 – 8th January 2023

Curator: Juan Vicente Aliaga

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Scandale' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Scandale
1947
Gelatin silver print
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The first exhibition for Art Blart in 2023!

The Art Blart archive has been going since November 2008. This is the first time I have posted on the avant-garde artist Isle Bing and her documentary humanism. Elements of Modernism, movement, New Vision, Bahuas, Surrealism, abstraction, form, geometry are all spontaneously and intuitively, precisely and poetically expressed in the artist’s work. Manipulation, solarisation, enlargement of fragments and cropping in the darkroom enhance the original negative.

“In addition to numerous portraits, Ilse Bing was primarily interested in urban motifs. They were fascinated by architectural elements and structures as well as urban hustle and bustle. Her way of working repeatedly explores the tracing of symmetry and rhythm in the experience of everyday situations.”1

“In Paris, Ilse Bing forged her style [using a Leica], combining poetry and realism, dreamlike enchantment and the clarity of modernity. She sought contrasts and original juxtapositions that transformed the banal reality of daily life into a new idea.”2

“Ilse Bing was once amongst the very first few women photographers to influentially master the avant-garde handheld Leica 35mm camera in the 1930s. She was also amongst the first to use solarisation, electronic flash and night photography, and established her own distinctive photographic style adoring romanticism, symbolism and dream imagery of surrealism.”3

“It was a time of exploration and discovery. … We wanted to show what the camera could do that no brush could do, and we broke every rule. We photographed into the light – even photographed the light, used distorted perspective, and showed movement as a blur. What we photographed was new, too – torn paper, dead leaves, puddles in the street—people thought it was garbage! But going against the rules opened the doors to new possibilities.” ~ Ilse Bing

Magnificent. Enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. Many more works can be viewed on the MoMA website.

 

  1. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  2. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing. Photographs 1928-1935,” on the Galerie Karsten Greve website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  3. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing: Paris and Beyond,” on the Exibart street website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023

.
Many thankx to Fundación MAPFRE for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

 

“I felt the camera grow as an extension of my eyes and move with me.”

.
Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 22.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Budgeheim' 1930

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Budgeheim
1930
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Laban Dance School, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Laban Dance School, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
9.7 x 16.6cm
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
1933
27.9 × 35.6cm
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pommery Champagne Bottles' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pommery Champagne Bottles
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 19.7cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'French Can-Can Dancer' 1931, printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can-Can Dancer
1931, printed 1941
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.2 x 34.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) '"It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower", Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
“It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower”, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 28.2cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Ilse Bing’s photographic oeuvre, created between 1929 and the late 1950s, was influenced by the different cities where she lived and worked: Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, Paris in that decade and post-war New York where above all she experienced the situation of an enforced emigré. Her work cannot, however, be easily located within the photographic and cultural trends that she encountered, although it was certainly enriched by all of them. Bing’s output was influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Weimar Bauhaus, by André Kertész and by the Surrealism of Man Ray, which she encountered when she moved to Paris in 1930. At the time of her arrival the French capital was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of a number of movements that would be crucial for the evolution of the avant-gardes. Surrealist echoes are evident in Bing’s photographs of objects and in her approach to the framing of her shots of chairs, streets and public spaces, images that transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation.

The Bauhaus was an extremely important influence on Bing’s work via both El Lissitzky’s theories and those of Moholy-Nagy’s New Vision, which promoted the fusion of architecture and photography and the autonomy of photography as a medium in relation to painting. New Vision offered infinite possibilities and Bing took full advantage of them, employing some of them in her work, such as abstraction, close-ups, plunging viewpoints, di sotto in sù, photomontages and overprinting, all to be seen in the images on display in the exhibition.

Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Ilse Bing was born in Frankfurt on 23 March 1899 to a middle-class Jewish family. She took her first photographs at the age of fourteen. Self-taught in this field, she realised that this would become her principal activity when she began photographing in order to illustrate her doctoral thesis. She studied mathematics and physics before opting for art history. In 1929 she gave up her university studies and, armed with her inseparable Leica, devoted herself to photography for the next thirty years. In 1930 she moved to Paris, where she continued active as a photojournalist while also producing her own more creative work, gradually becoming one of the leading representatives of modern French photography. In 1941 and with the advance of National Socialism, Bing moved to New York with her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff. Two decades later, at the age of 60, she ceased taking photographs and focused her attention on making collages, abstract works, drawings and also poetry writing. Ilse Bing died in New York in 1998.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE exhibition brochure

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower
1931
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 28.2cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Poverty in Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Poverty in Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 35.3cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6 cm
International Center of Photography, Nueva York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 × 9 in. (15.9 × 22.9cm)
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Greta Garbo Poster, Paris' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Greta Garbo Poster, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
22.3 × 30.5 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago
Donation of David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Overview

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

 

The exhibition

Featuring around 200 photographs and a range of documentary material, the exhibition presents a chronological and thematic survey of Ilse Bing’s career, divided into ten sections: “Discovering the world through a camera: the beginnings”, “The life of still lifes”, “The dancing body and its circumstances”, “Lights and shadows of modern architecture”, “The hustle and bustle of the street: the French years”, “The seduction of fashion”, “The United States in two phases”, “Self-image revelations”, “Portrait of time”, and “Live nature”.

 

Four keys

The Bauhaus. From 1910 onwards Frankfurt became the prototype of modern urban design thanks to the architect Ernst May, and the city’s medieval layout was gradually modified in a transformation based on its different societal requirements. This new architecture soon began to echo the ideas of El Lissitzky’s Constructivism, partly via the Dutch architect Mart Stam, a friend of Ilse Bing. Stam and the theories of the Bauhaus had a major influence on her works. László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus, had promoted the union of architecture and photography as well as the independence of the latter in relation to painting. The possibilities of Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) seemed endless and Bing applied some of its concepts and devices to her work: abstraction, immediate close-ups, plunging and di sotto in sù viewpoints, photo-montage and overprinting.

Surrealism, the spirit of an era. When Ilse Bing moved to Paris in 1930 the city was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of some of the key movements in the evolution of the avant-gardes. One of them – Surrealism – had a particular influence on her and its echoes are clearly discernible in her photographs of accessories taken for fashion magazines which reflect Surrealist theories on fetishism. It is also evident in the framing she chose for her images of chairs, streets and public spaces, which transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation. Finally, this influence also arose from Bing’s relationship with prominent figures associated with the movement, such as Elsa Schiaparelli.

Movement. Despite her fascination with abstraction and pure compositions, evident in many of her photographs of architecture and her still lifes, Ilse Bing was also captivated by the dynamism and movement of life and changing reality. She expressed this in her photographs of the Moulin Rouge and its surrounding area and in her investigation of dance. Bing captured the dynamism of the dancers twirling their skirts but also the expressivity of their bodies as they moved, jumping into the air or doing the splits.

Woman photographer. Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self-determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Prostitutes, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Prostitutes, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 34cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait with Leica' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
26.5 × 30.7cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
28 x 22cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Fair, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Fair, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
28.2 × 22.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
Donation of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Equine butcher shop' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Equine butcher shop
1933
Gelatin silver print
19.2 × 28.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper's Bazaar' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper’s Bazaar
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait
1934
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 21.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Study for "Salut de Schiaparelli" (Lily Perfume), Paris' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Study for “Salut de Schiaparelli” (Lily Perfume), Paris
1934
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 28.2 x 22.3cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Gold Lamé Evening Shoes' 1935

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Gold Lamé Evening Shoes
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Between France and the USA (Seascapes)' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Between France and the USA (Seascapes)
1936
Gelatin silver print
21 × 28.3 cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Legacy of Ilse Bing Wolff 2001
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York, the Elevated, and Me' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York, the Elevated, and Me
1936
Gelatin silver print
Galerie Le Minotaure, Paris
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York
1936
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 22.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

The artistic career of Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899-New York, 1998) can be located within a particularly complex temporal and socio-cultural context. This German photographer principally lived and worked in three places: in Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, in Paris in that decade and in post-war New York where she above all experienced the status of enforced emigré. Bing also visited other places, including Switzerland, Italy and Holland, but they never became decisive spaces that significantly influenced her way of working with regard to photography.

Analysed with the distance and perspective offered by the passing of time, Ilse Bing’s artistic corpus cannot easily be located within the various photographic trends she encountered during her lifetime, particularly in her initial German phase and the decade in Paris. While her work is charged with elements associated with both Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Bauhaus, which emerged during the Weimar Republic, as well as with the Surrealism she assimilated during her years in France, Bing’s position evades any strict norm or visual orthodoxy. In this sense it could be said that hers is a notably unique photographic gaze and approach in which modernity and formal innovation are indissolubly linked to a humanist approach involving a social conscience.

It is also important to emphasise that Ilse Bing’s career within the context of relatively difficult times was marked by a resolute determination to make her way in a world which viewed the presence of women as active agents in the social and thus the cultural realm with disdain or even hostility. Bing belonged to a generation of female photographers that achieved a previously unattainable visibility. The camera became for an essential tool of self-determination for numerous women artists, including figures such as Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund.

Juan Vicente Aliaga
Curator

 

Discovering the World Through A Camera: The Beginnings

With the exception of a few photographs of an amateur type, nothing indicated that Ilse Bing, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, would dedicate much of her life to the practice of photography. After an initial focus on scientific subjects and a period studying art history, Bing decided to illustrate her doctoral thesis with images taken in different museums. From that moment onwards and following a study trip to Switzerland when she discovered the work of Vincent van Gogh, she took the decision to focus her attention on photography. While she initially made use of a Voigtländer plate camera, she soon acquired a Leica which she would continue to use for much of her career. This was the camera she employed for the commissions she received from newspapers such as the Frankfurter Zeitung, work that gave her a degree of financial independence during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic.

At the outset Bing covered a range of subjects, doing so with ease and formal audacity. Everything seemed to attract her attention: men at work, the spatial simplicity of a gallery, the organic lines of a roof, the leg and arm movements of the ballerinas of the Rudolf von Laban company, the modern architecture which she had discovered through her friend the Dutch architect Mart Stam, and more. Bing’s gaze sought out unusual angles, it looked upwards and downwards, at times encountering normally overlooked elements of no monetary value and ones brought together by chance, as in Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket on Sidewalk, Frankfurt (1929).

 

The Life of Still Lifes

Objects from daily life are frequently present in modern art: a bottle, a newspaper, a letter, a collage-like fragment of a label, a jug, etc. Surrealism marked a revolution with regard to the representation of the object, which is never literal but rather filled with hidden aspects. The insertion of external objects into the visual space combined with other ones favours the emergence of the imaginary. By the time Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in 1930 she was already captivated by the chance encounter of often humble elements. Her French period served to accentuate her interest in a wide range of cast-off possessions and objects that seemed to allude to a universe in flux. Bing’s gaze always came to rest on real elements. The chairs she photographed existed but the framing she employed, the closeness or distance of the shot, the fact that the chairs are unoccupied and that the floor on which they stand has the silvery darkness of rain are all the result of her choices, adding an air of melancholy to the image.

Over the course of her career Bing used a range of different techniques in parallel while remaining constantly fascinated by inanimate objects. During her Paris years and despite financial difficulties her work is generally characterised by a poetic gaze in which the imagination moves towards undefined, almost dream-like realms. In contrast, in the period of exile in the United States a degree of coolness emerges, with the appearance of formal and symbolic traits such as a closing-in or enclosing of the depicted scene.

 

The Dancing Body and Its Circumstances

During her initial phase, in 1929 Ilse Bing established contacts with the dance and gymnastics school founded by Rudolf von Laban. She was struck by the way in which he aimed to draw a parallel between geometry and human movements and gestures.

Soon after arriving in Paris, Bing was commissioned to photograph the Moulin Rouge waxworks museum. The old Parisian dance hall where La Goulue and Toulouse-Lautrec had been leading attractions had lost much of its splendour. Bing spent time there and was attracted by numerous aspects of the place: its daily life on and off stage, including the couples who enjoyed a drink there, the boxing matches taking place, a dancer cheering up a weary boxer, the interesting nature of the clients, and the boredom of the doorman at the entrance to the cabaret. Aside from these aspects, what really caught the attention of the Paris photography world were Bing’s images of dancers in movement. Her restless eye was able to represent the vibration of the circular twists and turns, the complex, effortful open leg movements of a dancer captured in action, the troupe of dancers energetically waving their skirts, and more.

Another group of images of the troupe centres around the dancer Gerard Willem van Loon.

The third and last series of images focusing on dance was commissioned in relation to the ballet L’Errante, choreographed by the American George Balanchine and with set designs and libretto by the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Bing demonstrated her skill at capturing movement without making it seem frozen or trapped in time. Her eye translated the weightlessness of dreamlike fantasies to her images through the dynamic way in which she captured shadows.

 

Lights and Shadows of Modern Architecture

The architecture of Paris is generally reflected in Bing’s photography through images of middle- or working-class houses or walls and façades of dilapidated buildings. There was one notable exception, namely the Eiffel Tower. This emblematic work, constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, was nothing less than a revelation for Bing. The Tower’s imposing metal structure had been captured by various photographers, including László Moholy-Nagy in 1925, followed by Erwin Blumenfeld, André Kertész, François Kollar and Germaine Krull.

Bing chose to locate herself inside the structure and take shots at different heights, the majority looking downwards. Using this method, the reality of the space occupied by passers-by becomes perfectly visible. In other words, the intention is not to emphasise the abstract core, pure geometry and beauty of the forms, girders, mainstays, braces and other constructional elements but rather to show that this architectural marvel was also located in a specific place, in this case the gardens of the Champ de Mars.

At a later date, New York’s modern architecture astonished Bing for its display of power expressed as imposing constructions. She translated her amazement into a group of images primarily characterised by a distanced and simultaneously critical gaze on the architectural spectacle before her eyes. Her position was not simply an uncritical and admiring one, as evident in various photographs of skyscrapers abutting on poor areas of the city. The thrust of the symbolic power of vertical architecture is called into question by being juxtaposed with humble spaces and buildings, as we see with Chrysler Building (1936).

 

The Hustle and Bustle of the Street: The French Years

When Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in late November 1930 the city’s cultural context was particularly favourable in terms of the number of illustrated publications that made use of images taken by a large group of male and female photographers. These publications included Vu, Voilà, Marianne, Regards, L’Art Vivant, Arts et Métiers Graphiques and Urbanisme.

One of the commissions that Bing received allowed her to delve into an evident reality: the existence of poverty in certain parts of a major capital such as Paris. She focused her work on portraying the soup kitchens where large numbers of destitute people gathered.

The artist revealed her abilities in Paris, rue de Valois (1932), an image that allows for a questioning of the supposedly objective truth habitually associated with photography. On an inner city street Bing’s gaze focuses on a puddle in which the roofs of an adjacent building are reflected. She shows us the paradox of something that is located above and high up appearing below, on the ground.

While Bing’s Parisian photography has a melancholy, even sombre tone to it, it also looked at areas of human activity characterised by lively bustle and social interaction, such as her images of a gingerbread fair.

These years in France provided the setting for a veritable laboratory of ideas in which the influence of Bing’s Frankfurt years is still evident. It was also a time when the emergence of Surrealism was occupying the Parisian cultural scene, with its exploration of the unconscious and of hidden desires. It can be detected in the ghostly feel of the solarised photographs that Bing took on the Place de la Concorde.

In this context, and thanks to an invitation from the Dutch-born Hendrick Willem van Loon, Bing discovered the Netherlands, visiting places such as Veere and Amsterdam and capturing different moments of daily life. The country’s nature as a terrain regained from the sea also led the artist to reflect this geographical reality in a number of snapshots.

 

The Seduction of Fashion

During her Paris years Bing experienced financial difficulties, a recurrent problem for her over the years, for which reason in November 1933 she began to contribute to the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, an American publication noted for its modern style. She secured this work with a recommendation from the editor of the French edition, Daisy Fellowes, a fashion-world figure brought up in aristocratic circles. Some of Bing’s photographs are in fact of accessories that belonged to Fellowes, including the grey felt hat and an elegant pair of gloves. In these and other images Bing applied a highly innovative approach in which she brought out the texture of the objects and the sheen of the surfaces by cropping the frame in such a way that the various garments acquired a sensual touch as well as suggesting the attractiveness of a coveted object.

During these years Bing also met Elsa Schiaparelli, the celebrated Italian fashion designer with links to Surrealism. Bing took photographs as advertisements for perfumes such as Salut and Soucis, both of 1934. The aim of these images was to encourage the viewer to desire the product with all its sensual resonances without renouncing a modern aesthetic.

 

The United States in Two Stages

Bing’s experiences in New York can be divided into two quite distinct phases. The first was a visit in 1936 while the second came in 1941 with her forced departure from France following the Nazi occupation. She continued to live there until her death in 1998, although she brought her photographic activity to an end forty years earlier.

The first American trip lasted from April to June 1936. Bing was impressed by the colossal dimensions of the city’s architecture while her restless gaze also focused on other aspects of the metropolis: the harsh life of down-and-outs (Variation on Dead End), the dirtiness of the streets, a circus show with acrobats and animals, and more.

In these difficult circumstances and experiencing isolation, Bing transferred her sense of solitude to the reality that surrounded her, observing it attentively. The result is a number of desolate images in which her own feelings are transmuted into melancholy landscapes and objects: scrawny, leafless tree branches, picket fences enclosing plots, and a fire hydrant in a snowy landscape next to a fallen tree.

From 1941 onwards, still suffering from the effects of exile and in need of earning a living in a hostile environment, Bing turned her activities to various different jobs, taking passport photographs for immigrants, portrait photographs on commission and even working as a dog groomer, among other things. The illustrated magazine world clearly turned its back on her at this period.

 

Self-Image Revelations

In 1913 the teenage Bing took what she considered to be her first self-portrait. She poses in her bedroom in the family home in Frankfurt, sitting sideways at a desk and resting her feet on a chair. What we see in reality is her reflection in a cupboard mirror, which shows the young Ilse with her long hair. In front of a background of paintings, she looks out attentively and places her hand on the camera – a Kodak box model. She was unaware at the time that this device (albeit not this make) would become her principal working tool.

Throughout her life as an artist Bing repeated the exercise of portraying herself (usually indoors) with the aim of leaving a record of a specific moment of her existence. Through these self-portraits she forged her own identity as an emancipated and independent woman in times of enormous patriarchal pressure.

During her first visit to New York Bing conceived an image that is a clear indication of the sense of estrangement and alienation she felt at seeing herself so small before the immensity of the mecca of skyscrapers, as in New York, the Elevated, and Me (1936).

Bing would later make the representation of shadow a stark extension of her life and personality, frequently using it throughout her American years.

During the course of her lifetime Ilse Bing explored the transitory states of her own identity, sometimes presenting herself as firm and decided, at times as vulnerable and anxious and on other occasions as a fleeting shadow cast on a wall.

 

Portrait of Time

In addition to seeking out the intricacies of her subjectivity in her own image, from almost the outset Bing engaged in an intensive photographic activity in which she combined commissions for portraits, especially of children, with the desire to explore the human psyche.

With regard to childhood, Bing saw children as complete beings on the same level as adults, with their own internal struggles and issues. During her own childhood the prevailing view was that they were not fully formed but Bing was uncomfortable with this perception and over time she learned to see adulthood and childhood as two phases of life that had much more in common than was generally thought.

Similarly, she did not share the view that women should be conceived on the male model as if they were a mere accompaniment to their tune. She considered that “the human being can be represented and symbolised by women”, albeit without aiming to idealise them. These concepts, which clearly reflect an underlying feminist attitude, seem to allude to a holistic vision of existence devoid of hierarchies or fixed categories.

Bing went beyond merely capturing the moment, the temporal space in which her models pose. Rather, with both her child sitters and adults she aimed to show them engaged in an activity, extracting aspects of their character and personality from them.

 

Live Nature

Any assessment of Ilse Bing’s work must necessarily emphasise the impact on her career of her urban experiences in Frankfurt, Paris and New York. While this assertion seems indisputable, an analysis of her corpus would be diminished without a consideration of the close relationship she maintained with nature, both the untamed natural world and nature designed and organised by human hand, as in the case of the gardens of Versailles.

The natural world was also the locus in which Bing’s emotions and feelings took hold. The photographs taken on the banks of the Loire, for example, generally exude an air of calm and balance comparable to that which she felt in her own life at the time, contrasting strongly with the landscapes of wild and rugged places such as those she captured in the mountains of Colorado at a period of greater personal tension.

In 1959 Ilse Bing gave up photography for good. After three decades as a photographer and long before her work started to be recognised in museums in the United States, France and Germany, with exhibitions and publications of her work in Paris, New Orleans, Aachen and New York, the artist, who had proved herself able to represent the vibration of life, considered that she no longer had anything new to say or contribute in this medium.

Fundación MAPFRE exhibition texts

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Cleaner, Paris' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Cleaner, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Antigone with Teacher' 1950

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Antigone with Teacher
1950
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 26.7cm
International Center of Photography
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Nancy Harris' 1951

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Nancy Harris
1951
Gelatin silver print
50.3 × 40.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
The Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund for Photography 2000
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'All of Paris in a Box' 1952

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
All of Paris in a Box
1952
Gelatin silver print
40.1 x 48.4cm
James Hyman Gallery, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Picket Fence' 1953

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Picket Fence
1953
Gelatin silver print
50.5 × 40.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Steven Schwartz 2013
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris' 1957

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris
1957
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 40cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

 

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16
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 12th September, 2022 – 1st January 2023

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 Photo: Emile Askey

 

 

There are so many exhibitions that finish before mid-January 2023 that I am going to post at odd times over the festive season and New Year so that I can fit them all in.

Another exhibition by this superb artist, this time his first museum survey in New York. ‘The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarised by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”‘

This relationship to the world, of living and loving in the world, of being an aware social and political artist, reminds me of a wonderful quote by that magical Irish poet Thomas Heaney:

“The watergaw, the faint rainbow glimmering in chittering light, provides a sort of epiphany, and MacDiarmid connects the shimmer and weakness and possible revelation in the light behind the drizzle with the indecipherable look he received from his father on his deathbed … Each expression, each cadence, each rhyme is as surely and reliably in place as a stone on a hillside.” ~ Seamus Heaney1

Each of Tillmans’ individual images offer the possibility of an epiphany … collectively, they propose a sure and reliable nonhierarchical nexus of relationships that is revelatory.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Heaney, Seamus. The Redress of Poetry. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, pp. 107-108.

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition brochure (2.4Mb pdf)

 

The Museum of Modern Art will present Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the artist’s first museum survey in New York, from September 12, 2022 through January 1, 2023, in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions. Unique groupings of approximately 350 of Tillmans’s photographs, videos, and multimedia installations will be displayed according to a loose chronology throughout the Museum’s sixth floor. Informed by new scholarship and eight years of dialogue with the artist, the exhibition will highlight how Tillmans’s profoundly inventive, philosophical, and creative approach is both informed by and designed to highlight the social and political causes for which he has been an advocate throughout his career.

From the outset of his career, Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has revolutionised the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition by hanging photographs in a corner, above a doorframe, on a free-standing column, or next to a fire extinguisher. In developing his own language for these overall installations, Tillmans’s practice verges into a sculptural dimension. The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarised by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”

 

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 shwoing at left, Tillmans Victoria Park (2007, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Victoria Park' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Victoria Park
2007
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 shwoing at top left, Tillmans Lacanau (self) (1986, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lacanau (self)' 1986

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lacanau (self)
1986
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at right, Smokin’ Jo (1995, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Smokin' Jo' 1995

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Smokin’ Jo
1995
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Arkadia I' 1996

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Arkadia I
1996

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at top right in the top image, Arkadia I (1996, above); and at right in the bottom image, Tillmans work Concorde Grid (1997), a series of 56 colour photographs of equal dimensions
Photos: Emile Askey

 

 

A series of fifty-six colour photographs of equal dimensions arranged in a grid four rows high and fourteen columns wide. The series was created in an edition of ten plus one artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is number four. The photographs were taken as part of a commission for the Chisenhale Gallery, London on the occasion of I Didn’t Inhale, Tillmans’ solo exhibition there in 1997. An artist’s book consisting of sixty-two Concorde images was produced to accompany the exhibition. It was published by Walther König, Cologne. Fifty-four of the images in the photographic edition are reproduced in the book. The photographs were taken at a number of sites in and around London, including close to the perimeter fence at Heathrow airport. Several photographs of the airplane landing and taking off from the airport were taken looking through the security fence, which is included in the image as a blurred outline. In another sequence, the jet is viewed taking off dramatically over an expanse of brilliant green grass, suggesting that the artist may have pushed his camera lens between the gaps in the fence so as not to include it in the frame. Further photographs were taken from such vantage points as suburban railway tracks, roads close to the airport, a yard containing parked trucks and an open common. The airplane is depicted in varying scales viewed from a wide variety of angles. At times it resembles a bird, at others (when it flies directly above the camera at close range) an air-borne sting-ray. In several images it is barely visible in the haze of distance and the afterburn of its engines. Tillmans’ project has the flavour of a birdwatcher’s obsessive tracking and recording. He has written:

“Concorde is perhaps the last example of a techno-utopian invention from the sixties still to be operating and fully functioning today. Its futuristic shape, speed and ear-numbing thunder grabs people’s imagination today as much as it did when it first took off in 1969. It’s an environmental nightmare conceived in 1962 when technology and progress was the answer to everything and the sky was no longer a limit … For the chosen few, flying Concorde is apparently a glamorous but cramped and slightly boring routine whilst to watch it in the air, landing or taking-off is a strange and free spectacle, a super modern anachronism and an image of the desire to overcome time and distance through technology.”

(Quoted on the inner sleeve of Concorde)

Elizabeth Manchester. “Concorde Grid,” on the Tate website January 2003 [Online] Cited November 2022

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the top image at left Tillmans work Aufsicht (yellow) (1999, below); and at right in the bottom image, Icestorm (2001, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Aufsicht (yellow)' (View from Above [yellow]) 1999

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Aufsicht (yellow) (View from Above [yellow])
1999
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Icestorm
2001
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Photos: Emile Askey

 

 

“The viewer… should enter my work through their own eyes, and their own lives,” the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans has said. An incisive observer and a creator of dazzling pictures, Tillmans has experimented for over three decades with what it means to engage the world through photography. Presenting the full breadth and depth of the artist’s career, Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear invites us to experience the artist’s vision of what it feels like to live today.

From ecstatic images of nightlife to abstract images made without a camera, sensitive portraits to architectural slide projections, documents of social movements to windowsill still lifes, astronomical phenomena to intimate nudes, Tillmans has explored seemingly every imaginable genre of photography, continually experimenting with how to make new pictures. He considers the role of the artist to be that of “an amplifier” of social and political causes, and his approach is animated by a concern with the possibilities of forging connections and the idea of togetherness.

Tillmans has rejected the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, continuously developing connections between his pictures and the social space of the exhibition. In his installations, unframed prints are taped to the walls or clipped and hung from pins, and framed photographs appear alongside magazine pages. Constellations of images are grouped on walls and tabletops as photocopies, colour or black-and-white photographs, and video projections, exemplifying the artist’s idea of visual democracy in action. “I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” Tillmans has said. “They’re also always a world that I want to live in.”

Following its presentation at MoMA, the exhibition will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at third left in the second image, Venus, transit (2004, below); and at right in the bottom image, Tillmans Freischwimmer 230 (Free Swimmer 230) (2012, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at left, Freischwimmer 230 (Free Swimmer 230) (2012, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Venus, transit' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Venus transit
2004
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Freischwimmer 230' (Free Swimmer 230) 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Freischwimmer 230 (Free Swimmer 230)
2012
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art will present Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the artist’s first museum survey in New York, from September 12, 2022, through January 1, 2023, in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions. Unique groupings of approximately 350 of Tillmans’s photographs, videos, and multimedia installations will be displayed according to a loose chronology throughout the Museum’s entire sixth floor. Shaped by new scholarship and eight years of dialogue with the artist, the exhibition will highlight how Tillmans’s profoundly inventive, philosophical, and creative approach is both informed by and designed to highlight the poetic possibilities and social and political causes for which he has been an advocate throughout his career. Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has explored seemingly every genre of photography imaginable, continually experimenting with how to make pictures meaningful. Since the beginning of his career, Tillmans has revolutionised the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition. Spanning the artist’s production from the 1980s to the present, this survey will present iconic photographs alongside his rarely seen significant bodies of work, foregrounding the ways in which Tillmans’s concern with social themes, lived experiences, and the idea of togetherness are inextricable from this ongoing investigation of the medium.

“Social themes form a rich vein throughout his practice,” said Roxana Marcoci. “They motivate Tillmans’s exploration of the questions of how to see and how to communicate seeing.” His approach to art making emphasises the ideas of human connections, with his work reflecting a deep care for his subjects. Tillmans has pictured survival and loss amid the AIDS crisis, mined the media’s aestheticisation of military forces, given voice to LGBTQ+ communities around the world, and tracked the diffusion of globalism. To look without fear will present several different bodies of work and will reflect Tillmans’s distinct strategies of display. In his installations, unframed prints are taped to the walls or hung with clips, and framed photographs appear alongside magazine pages. Constellations of images – colour and black-and-white photographs and photocopies – grouped on walls and tabletops alongside video projections and sonic installations exemplify the artist’s idea of visual democracy in action. “I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” Tillmans has said.

The works that will be installed at the entrance to the exhibition exemplify Tillmans’s engagement with new forms of technology, which is traceable to his childhood passion for astronomy. It was through his early trials with the telescope, and later with the photocopier and video camera, that he ultimately arrived at his photographic practice. Victoria Park (2007), depicting two friends lounging in a park in East London, reflects his long-standing engagement with the laser photocopier, which he first happened upon as a teenager in a local print shop in 1986. Often enlarging images up to 400 percent, Tillmans aspired to expand the limits of photographic materials and techniques, an ambition that aligned with his near-contemporaneous experiments with electronic music. In the 2017 video untitled (leg), a single bare leg rotates slowly in rhythm, recalling 19th-century pre-cinematic motion studies, while its vertical aspect ratio evokes a 21st century-format: the smartphone screen.

In the exhibition’s first gallery, Tillmans’s early photocopies will be installed alongside images that brought him to prominence as a chronicler of youth subculture and nightlife, including Lutz & Alex sitting in the tree (1992) and Chemistry Squares (1992), which were both published in the British alternative magazine i-D in the early 1990s. The persistent presence of magazines in his exhibitions is indicative of how Tillmans harnesses the capacity of his pictures to amplify ideas when they are distributed across media platforms.

The second gallery will include early photographs that foreground Tillmans’s abiding interest in music and performance. His portrait, made for Interview magazine in 1995, of the legendary DJ Joanne Joseph – better known by her stage name, Smokin’ Jo – will be installed near wall of speakers (1992), made on a trip to Kingston, Jamaica, where Tillmans photographed the local ragga music scene. This photograph captures an outdoor festival’s precariously stacked sound system, depicting the structure as both a sculptural object and a means of experimentation capable of producing thunderous bass sounds.

The following gallery will include works that speak to Tillmans’s subversion of traditional art-historical subjects and genres. In the photographs he calls Faltenwurf (German for “drapery”), clothes hang drying on radiators, are crumpled into balls, or lie in heaps, alluding to drawn and painted studies of fabric. Beginning in the late 1990s, Tillmans became increasingly invested in the possibilities afforded by darkroom abstraction, experimenting with new techniques, such as applying coloured tints and using flashlights to manipulate a negative while it developed. In his monumental I don’t want to get over you (2000), a title inspired by the lyrics of a song by the Magnetic Fields, gestural green streaks and dark, thread-like lines fuse with the image of a vast, barren-looking, otherworldly landscape.

Tillmans’s video work – an under-recognised facet of his practice – brings together movement, electronic music, ambient sound, technology, and quotidian imagery. The fourth gallery will feature two such video works. Lights (Body) (2000-2002) focuses on the flashing lights in a busy nightclub, revealing the specks of dust rising off the ravers’ clothes and skin, accompanied by the hypnotic dance beat of Air’s “Don’t Be Light (The Hacker Remix).” Peas (2003), a three-minute study of a pot of boiling peas in close-up, shot in Tillmans’s former East London studio, depicts the mutual rhythm of the vegetables over audible sounds from a Pentecostal church across the street.

A fifth gallery is dedicated to Soldiers: The Nineties (1999), an installation of enlarged newspaper photographs exploring the geopolitical implications of visual culture. Throughout the 1990s, as Cold War tensions eased, the front pages of newspapers often featured images of soldiers engaged in acts of leisure, such as smoking, casually sitting, or playing chess, as thousands of military personnel were deployed to conflict-ridden nations to participate in peacekeeping missions sponsored by the United Nations. Tillmans was intrigued by the erotic undertones of these photographs of anonymous, occasionally bare-chested servicemen, informed by his previous attention to the ways that queer and techno subcultures had adopted camouflage and utility wear.

Gallery six will explore Tillmans’s work at the threshold of abstraction and representation, as well as his deep interest in the materiality of photographic paper. Tillmans first created a body of work called paper drops after he acquired an industrial-sized printer in 2001 and began experimenting with the optical effects of gravity, which allowed the paper to freely bend and curl. “For me, the photo has always been an object,” Tillmans has said. The manipulated colour fields of the Lighter (ongoing since 2005) works expand upon this dynamic. Made without a camera, the photographic paper is either folded in the darkroom or exposed to evoke the effects of folding, and then framed in plexiglass. The Silvers (ongoing since 1992) are also cameraless works made by feeding photographic paper through a developer that Tillmans has purposely not cleaned, allowing interferences of dirt and traces of silver salts be visible.

The centre space of the exhibition will include an iteration of Tillmans’s Truth Study Center, a type of structure first presented by Tillmans in 2005, in which unpretentious wooden tabletops serve as the display architecture for a mix of his own photographs, clippings, and printouts of newspaper and magazine articles. Tillmans introduced this tactic to question notions of absolutism – whether it be the Bush Administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq, or religious dogma in any form – while also acknowledging the universal human desire to search for truth. Half of the tables in this room contain material from the early 2000s installations while the other half has been composed specifically for the MoMA exhibition using recent material.

Between 2008 and 2012, Tillmans embarked on a major new project that coincided with his adoption of the digital camera. Comprising portraiture, still life, landscape, street photography, and architectural studies, Neue Welt (“New World”) observes the flows of finance, commodities, and people around the world. Alongside these works, gallery seven will feature documents of social movements that bring to the fore the ethics of care at the heart of Tillmans’s practice. One such exemplary work is a 2014 photograph of dancing figures at one of St. Petersburg’s few gay clubs, the Blue Oyster Bar, taken a year after Vladimir Putin signed a bill outlawing the dissemination of “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations.” Another notable example is Black Lives Matter protest, Union Square, b (2014), depicting an outstretched hand at a Black Lives Matter protest in the wake of widely publicised police killings of African Americans.

A highlight of To look without fear will be the first US museum presentation of an audiovisual listening room for Tillmans’s first full-length album, Moon in Earthlight (2021), a quintessential example of his unique style of “audio photography” As a musician and documentarian of music, Tillmans has long engaged with music, its cultural significance, and the shared experience of listening – from images of raves, clubs, and dance parties to videos of the artist himself dancing. Produced primarily during the pandemic, the 53-minute album incorporates spoken word, ambient field recordings, and pulsating electronic beats, emphasising the performative nature of music and its status as a preeminent force that brings people together.

This comprehensive exhibition will conclude with recent and never-before-seen portraits, landscape, and astrophotography, alongside older works. The platform just outside the sixth-floor exhibition space will feature Tillmans monumental collaboration with German sculptor Isa Genzken, Science Fiction / Hier und jetzt zufrieden sein (2001), a dizzying environment comprised of two irregularly gridded mirrored structures by Genzken and wake, the largest photograph Tillmans has ever made, depicting the aftermath of a party bidding farewell to his London studio. The installation’s title is partially drawn from the German phrase meaning “happy in the here and now,” evoking a contemplative mindfulness as visitors depart the exhibition.

Press release from MoMA

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at second right, The Spectrum Dagger (2016, below); and at right, Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I (2014, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at second left, Tillmans Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees (1992, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees' 1992

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees
1992
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

The Wandering Image

Roxana Marcoci
Sep 8, 2022

The potential of the “wandering image” – the migrant, incessantly decentralized image, which moves and performs across communication platforms – has been critical to Wolfgang Tillmans since the beginning of his artistic practice.1 The unfettered circulation of images plays an important role in his embrace of mobility, diversity, and the variety and mutability of sexual identity in the world. By transmitting, sharing, and setting images free, by multiplying their lives, he proposes a fully democratized experience of art.

Such a notion of photography’s potential role is not entirely new. As early as the mid-1930s, writer and politician André Malraux praised the medium’s capacity to encompass the globe (a forecast of the digital age). For Malraux, furthermore, photography offered a way to understand the human condition, enabled cross-cultural analysis, and democratized the experience of art by freeing original objects from their contexts and relocating them “closer” to the viewer. In his 1947 book Le musée imaginaire, he advocated for a pancultural “museum without walls,” postulating that art history has in fact become “the history of that which can be photographed.”2 His thesis, forward-thinking as it was, has been challenged recently by scholars who note that Malraux (a player in France’s political sphere in the 1950s and ’60s) indiscriminately brought together works of art from all periods and regions, ruthlessly deracinating them from their history and heritage and repurposing them in service to the ideological interests of colonialism.3

In his practice, Tillmans offers an alternative, even inverse proposition: he links the wandering image to a politics of equality and historical consciousness. The photograph’s reproducibility, its ubiquity across media, counters the aura attributed to the original – and to the ideals of uniqueness and specificity. Photography actualizes art’s potential itinerancy and multiplicity. Indeed, Tillmans’s work raises a number of questions: Might the mediated image at times be more impactful or enduring than a direct experience of the work? Might it be equally significant, even if different? How to see and how to communicate seeing are at the crux of photography’s capacity to articulate the world in relational terms – decentered, nonhierarchical, open to differences. Making connections between images seen for the first time or images looked at again in new configurations or across a spectrum of platforms as if for the first time – all this constitutes the evolving knowledge of the visible.

Tillmans has distributed his photographs and ideas across the pages of magazines and books, postcards and newspaper inserts, music videos and records, posters, billboards, nightclubs, architectural contexts, and the theatrical stage. “His various tactics of distribution,” critic Johanna Burton notes, “enable various permeations, recognizing that there are multiple kinds of cultural repositories, all with different logics and dimensions.”4 Yet each context also invests Tillmans’s peripatetic images with additional meanings. And – paradoxically, but perhaps inevitably – the artist brings light to these meanings through his attentive engagement with the singular image within each singular installation.

The most often used of his platforms is the gallery installation, but even in a familiar space such as this his unorthodox display strategies defamiliarize viewing habits. Sidestepping museological conventions of material, scale, and subject matter, he organizes his installations in relational montages inspired by the aesthetics of cinema and magazine layouts, eschewing a uniformly linear display logic. He activates the images’ latent effects through nonverbal yet resonant associations. Large inkjet prints, attached to the wall with binder clips, bowing slightly along the edges, are juxtaposed with postcard-sized images, photocopies, magazine pages, and glossy chromogenic prints fastened with Scotch Magic Tape. Tillmans organizes each part of the wall almost as though it were a page layout and makes full use of the architecture of the room, hanging photographs in a corner, above a doorframe in the vicinity of the exit sign, on a freestanding column, next to a fire extinguisher. There are also table-based configurations, and crumpled or folded monochrome pictures whose sculptural volumes are encased in acrylic frames. The decisive logic of his practice is the visual democracy he brings to each installation, best summarized by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”5

Entangled with humanist ideas, Tillmans’s value system revolves around some central questions: What can pictures make visible? What can one know at all? Who deserves attention? How can one connect with other people? How might we foster solidarity? In what do art’s political potential and its ethical worth reside? As he notes: “For me art was the area where I could oppose. Express difference.”6 This desire to observe the world with intention is matched by an empirical openness to nontraditional formats and alternative venues. Operating on the basic premise that all motifs and platforms are worth investigating, Tillmans subjects his own photographic vision to perpetual recontextualization.

This openness to a range of forms and spaces can be seen in his very earliest efforts. In February 1988 Tillmans had his first show, at Café Gnosa in Hamburg. There he presented Approaches (1987-1988), a group of photocopied triptychs made with a Canon laser photocopier, which he utilized like a stationary camera. His exercises with enlarging xerographic images up to 400 percent demonstrate his aspiration to expand the limits of materials and techniques used in making works, and are in a sense aligned with his near contemporaneous experiments with mechanically produced electronic music.

In September 1988 a second exhibition of Tillmans’s work took place, at the Fabrik Fotoforum in Hamburg, where he showed a new selection of Approaches: a sequence of progressive enlargements of vacation shots and newspaper images, together with photographs of video stills of closeup self-portraits he had made with a portable VHS camera. This body of work was featured again, later in the same year, at the Stadtteilbücherei RemscheidLennep.

Tillmans’s intensive observation and engagement with technology can be traced back to his childhood passion for astronomy. His earliest photographs (from 1978, when he was 10 years old) were of celestial bodies, captured by holding his father’s camera up to the eyepiece of his first telescope. Through these incipient trials with the telescope, and later the photocopier and video camera, he ultimately settled on photography. His route there took him through diverse modes of expression, from writing song lyrics to making clothes to painting and drawing to scientific studies and explorations.

In November 1992 Tillmans presented a large picture printed on fabric, Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees, at Maureen Paley’s Interim Art stand at the UnFair in Cologne, an event organized by young galleries in a disused factory an alternative to the city’s official art fair. In the same month, Lutz & Alex was published as part of an eight-page photo spread titled “like brother like sister” in i-D – a British magazine covering anti–high fashion, music, and youth culture – to which he had recently started contributing.7 Two months later, in early 1993, he had his first gallery exhibition, at Daniel Buchholz’s two spaces in Cologne. In the back of an antique bookshop run by Buchholz and his father, Tillmans mounted a completely nonhierarchical installation, interspersing handprinted chromogenic prints, magazine pages, and laser photocopies. Large-scale inkjet prints mounted on fabric were appended directly to the walls in Buchholz’s second space. In the bookshop itself he showed photocopies pegged on clotheslines among the antiquarian prints that were already hanging. The exhibition also included a display case holding four magazines from different countries, all featuring the same photograph by Tillmans, of two men kissing at a EuroPride rally in London, each printed with a slightly different tonality. In the shop window he stuck a grid of techno club pictures from 1991, made in Ghent, London, and Frankfurt, which had been published that year in i-D.

The wide ambit of Tillmans’s installations was thus established in his first exhibitions. As artist and curator Julie Ault observes: “Taken together the installations reflect the artist’s parallel tracks of interest in the singular self-sufficient image and in relationships between images and production types.”8 They also highlight Tillmans’s wide-eyed interest in image networks and the potentials of spatial dynamics. A pioneer of the photographic exhibition itself as spatial medium, he created the conditions with which to communicate his ideas about social and political realities while intensifying visitors’ viewing and sensory experiences.9

As we consider the many platforms, media, and display strategies Tillmans has engaged to articulate his work, the larger principles of his worldview become clear. His relationship to reality is, he points out, always “above all, more ethical than technical, or purely aesthetic.”10

Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, organized by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, is on view September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023.

 

  1. The phrase “wandering image” is Tillmans’s own. See Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Conversation Series, no. 6 (Cologne: Walther König, 2007), p. 76. See WT Reader, p. 138.
  2. André Malraux, Le musée imaginaire (1947); in English as Museum without Walls (London: Zwemmer, 1949). This was the first volume of a three-part compendium, La psychologie de l’art (The Psychology of Art), which Malraux subsequently expanded and reissued in a single book as Les voix du silence (The Voices of Silence, 1951).
  3. Scholar Hannah Feldman critiques Malraux’s “amnesiac aesthetics,” noting that his cultural policies before and during the time he served as France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs (1959-1969), under President Charles de Gaulle, coincided with the country’s colonial wars first in Indochina and then in Algeria. See Feldman, From a Nation Torn: Decolonizing Art and Representation in France, 1945-1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), p. 11.
  4. Johanna Burton, “Pictures in the Present Tense,” in Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Phaidon, exp. ed. 2014), p. 190. See also Mark Godfrey, “Worldview,” in Wolfgang Tillmans, ed. Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury with Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Tate Publishing, 2017).
  5. This was the title of Tillmans’s retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain (June 6 – September 4, 2003).
  6. Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Shirley Read, “Oral History of British Photography,” British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (Recording 4, May 4, 2015, 00:17:16, digital file name: 021AC0459X0220XX0004MO.mp3).
  7. Wolfgang Tillmans, “like brother like sister,” i-D, no. 110 (November 1992), pp. 80-87.
  8. Julie Ault, “The Subject Is Exhibition (2008): Installations as Possibility in the Practice of Wolfgang Tillmans,” in Wolfgang Tillmans: Lighter, ed. Daniel Birnbaum, Julie Ault, and Joachim Jäger (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2008), p. 15.
  9. In the 1920s and 1930s groundwork was laid for experimentation with spaces and media technologies in exhibition installations. Notable among these efforts: El Lissitzky’s psychoperceptual Demonstrationsräume (Demonstration Spaces), which marked the emergence of exhibition theory and the exhibition as a medium; Friedrich Kiesler’s exploratory Raumbühne (Space Stage, 1924), by which he proposed dispensing with the old proscenium frame of classical theaters and cinema houses and merging auditorium and stage into an interactive arena; Herbert Bayer’s 1935 spatial scheme for extending the viewing experience – a post-Bauhaus diagram consisting of rings of image panels installed at 360 degrees around the viewer to enhance sensorial agency; and László Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy’s synthesis of typography, photography, sound recording, and film into a generative intermedia experience, in “ProduktionReproduktion,” De Stijl 5, no. 7 (July 1922), pp. 97-101.
  10. Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Beatrix Ruf, “New World/Life Is Astronomical,” in Tillmans, Neue Welt (Cologne: Taschen, 2012), n.p. See WT Reader, p. 188.

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at second left top, Tillmans The Cock (kiss) (2002, below); and at centre, Anders pulling splinter from his foot (2004, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Cock (kiss)
2002
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the top image at centre, The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg (2014, below); in the bottom image at top right inner, NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE (2006, below); and at right, The Spectrum Dagger (2016, above)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at third left, Tukan (2010, below); and at right, Headlight (f) (2012, below); and at right, Weed (2014, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Tukan (Toucan)
2010
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Weed
2014

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans: On the Limits of Seeing in a High-Definition World

Aimee Lin
Jan 11, 2022

Edited by Roxana Marcoci and Phil Taylor, the just-released Wolfgang Tillmans: A Reader (2021) is the first publication to present the artist’s contributions as a thinker and writer in a systematic manner, illuminating the breadth of his engagement with audiences across diverse platforms. The interview excerpt below is included in the reader.

Aimee Lin: In the catalogue [DZHK Book 2018] for your Hong Kong exhibition [at David Zwirner] you have reproduced an email conversation with a printing company you contacted in response to a spam email. How did that dialogue start?

Wolfgang Tillmans: It was just by chance. The email caught my eye because it was so unsophisticated and innocent. I thought that, rather than malicious phishers, these might be real people. So I wrote back, and their response was quite touching. They explained they were young and sending out random emails to find customers for their printing business. We think of it as spam, but it is no different from a leaflet through the letter-box. They really were trying to find clients, but I naturally assumed that it was some terrible virus or phishing scam.

Aimee Lin: Why did you want to include this in the catalogue? It’s a very beautiful story, very funny, even flirty.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I see this catalogue as an artist’s book. I like to explore different materialities in books, different ways of thinking. It’s not just a representation of images, it’s a book of poetry. When I was laying out the book, I thought of it as writing. I can’t tell you the story in words, but I feel it in the sequence of pictures. The book is about language, but not necessarily a verbal or literary language. Text is included in my recent pictures, including the works exhibited in this show. And I considered this exchange with the printer “Klaus” as a kind of concrete poetry.

Aimee Lin: The conversation reminded me of Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. It’s about two inmates, a political prisoner and a thief, and in each chapter one of the guys tells the story of a film they’ve seen.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I never understood myself as speaking only through photography. I feel like I can say almost everything I want to with photography, and I still haven’t gotten tired of it, but on the other hand it is only one medium. More and more, I realize that language is something I care about and have developed as a medium in the shape of interviews and lectures. The lectures are like eighty-minute performances, with language, pictures, and silence. This performative element moved into video and finally back into music. Music is a lot about words being spoken and sung.

Aimee Lin: The exhibition at David Zwirner’s Hong Kong space will include images of Shenzhen, Macau, and Hong Kong, all of which are political and geographical borders inside China. I’m curious about why you chose to photograph those places.

Wolfgang Tillmans: The Macau picture is from 1993, which is the first time I was in Macau and the last time I was in Hong Kong, so there’s been twenty-five years between my two visits. Back then I wanted to see the border with China. I’m interested in understanding the difference across a border when the earth – the ground, the matter – is the same. I never took borders for granted, and I don’t necessarily want to tear them down, but I do want to understand them in their material reality. To feel them. Clothes also interest me, this thin layer of fabric that conceals plain human bodies that are pretty much the same. The putting on of clothes changes so much. A uniform creates authority and distance, which is in a way ridiculous, because it’s just a piece of fabric, it’s nothing. A pair of ripped jeans is seen by a parent as something that should be thrown away, and by a teenager as the most beloved piece of clothing.

Aimee Lin: Clothes are an artificial border against your natural body.

Wolfgang Tillmans: Yes. I acknowledge that there are borders between people, languages, and races. But I think that by looking at them, touching them, smelling them, feeling them, you can also see them for what they are. Strangely, that’s the visible medium of photography. It’s not a scientific way of looking deeper, but it does put me into situations where I can explore those limits, whether that’s being at a border or looking through an extremely large telescope. I spent a weekend in Chile at an observatory, looking at the border of the visible.

Aimee Lin: The far end of the universe.

Wolfgang Tillmans: Astronomy is located at the limit. Can I see something there? Is that a detail or is it just noise in the camera sensor? By going to the limits, to the borders, I find comfort in being in-between. I always felt held in-between the infinite smallness of subatomic space and the infinite largeness of the cosmos. It gives me comfort to feel infinity.

Aimee Lin: How does that experience, that feeling, relate to your high-resolution digital photographs, which are printed at a very large scale? Those images are so massive, contain so much detailed visual information, that they are overwhelming.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I wasn’t originally interested in super-sharp, large-format film, because I wanted my photographs to describe how it feels to look through my eyes. For that, 100 ASA [ISO] 35mm film is close enough to how I feel things look. But since 1995 I have also shown very large photographs, the largest of which is called wake (2001), recently shown at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Those pictures were made with 35mm negatives, but in 2009 I started to work with a high-resolution digital camera. Suddenly I found myself with an instrument in my hand that was as powerful as a large-format camera. It took me three years to learn how to speak with this new language. By 2012, the whole world had become high-definition. Being able to zoom in on a huge print, and still see detail after detail, is how the world feels now, through my eyes. I’m grateful that I was able to make that development from film to high-resolution digital photography, because it opened up a new language in the history of art. One of the pictures, included in the Hong Kong exhibition, showing the texture of wood and an onion [Sections (2017)], is of such shocking clarity that you find yourself facing an idea of infinity. These pictures contain more information than you can ever remember. Only these large-format prints are able to display the full range of detail, color, and scale, and so digital has actually made the objects almost more unique. The object can only be experienced in the full depth of its presence and its material reality in that room at that time.

Aimee Lin: This material reality is only accessible through the picture. The eyes can’t process so much information in one go.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I find that miraculous. There’s something deeply philosophical in having to learn to let go of information. It’s an analogy for the information age, and the challenge of valuing things at the same time as being prepared to let them go. To understand everything as the same, and yet to decide that some things are more valuable than others. I choose to value certain things, and at the same time to understand that everything is materially equal, if we accept that things are infinite. That’s a strange opposition.

The full article was originally published as “Wolfgang Tillmans: On the Limits of Seeing in a High-Definition World,” by Aimee Lin. ArtReview Asia, Spring 2018, 64-65. Courtesy Aimee Lin and ArtReview Asia.

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at centre, Frank, in the shower (2015, below); and at second right, blue self–portrait shadow (2020, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Frank, in the shower' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Frank, in the shower
2015
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'blue self–portrait shadow' 2020

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
blue self–portrait shadow
2020
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at second right, blue self–portrait shadow (2020, above); and at right, Concrete Column III (2021, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Concrete Column III' 2021

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Concrete Column III
2021
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Page spreads from "like brother like sister" 'i-D', no. 110 (November 1992)

Page spreads from "like brother like sister" 'i-D', no. 110 (November 1992)

 

Page spreads from “like brother like sister”
i-D, no. 110 (November 1992)
layout designed by Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'still life, New York' 2001

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
still life, New York
2001
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'wake' 2001

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
wake
2001
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Installation view, Panorama Bar, Berghain, Berlin' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Installation view, Panorama Bar, Berghain, Berlin
2004
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'August self portrait' 2005

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
August self portrait
2005
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Faltenwurf (skylight)' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Faltenwurf (skylight)
2009
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lighter, white convex I' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lighter, white convex I
2009
Chromogenic print in acrylic hood
25 1/4 x 21 1/16 x 2 3/8″ (64.2 x 54.2 x 6cm)
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'in flight astro ii' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
in flight astro ii
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans, and courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Buchholz, Berlin and Cologne; Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'sensor flaws and dead pixels, ESO' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
sensor flaws and dead pixels, ESO
2012
© Wolfgang Tillmans, and courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Buchholz, Berlin and Cologne; Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Silver 152' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Silver 152
2013
Chromogenic print
21 5/16 × 25 1/4″ (54.2 × 64.2cm)
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Playing cards, Hong Kong' 2018

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Playing cards, Hong Kong
2018
© Wolfgang Tillmans, and courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Buchholz, Berlin and Cologne; Maureen Paley, London

 

'Wolfgang Tillmans: Fragile' Installation view, Contemporary Art Gallery, Yaoundé, Cameroon, 2019

 

Wolfgang Tillmans: Fragile
Installation view, Contemporary Art Gallery, Yaoundé, Cameroon, 2019
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lüneburg (self)' 2020

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lüneburg (self)
2020
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

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05
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 15th July – 6th November 2022

Curators: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator, Department of Photographs, assisted by Virginia McBride, Research Associate, Department of Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

 

Bernd & Hiller Becher exhibition banner

 

Bernd & Hiller Becher exhibition banner

 

 

Ghosts in the machine

In a way that Plato would recognise with his perfect forms (abstract yet perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and space and live on a spiritual plane behind the representation of a physical reality), I feel as though Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) has existed outside of time – a model of directness that was always there – in a timeless way, before the actual concept emerged into consciousness in the 1920s German art tradition.

German photographers Bernd & Hiller Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) were devoted to the ideals of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and their work evolved from these older traditions of objective photography as practiced by artists such as August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) during the 1920s. The typologies that the Bechers collected – their beautiful, multiple, conceptual, objective, documentary fine art ‘record photographs’ – made them among the most important figures in postwar German photography.

Their teaching at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in the mid 1970s lead to the formation of the Dusseldorf School of Photography which refers to a group of photographers who studied under the artist duo who also shared (and then modified) their aesthetic – a commitment to controlled objectivity and a documentary orientation. These important next generation artists included people such as Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth. The Bechers influence on contemporary documentary fine art photography continues today.

“The Bechers specialized in the photography of anonymous industrial sites and structures, methodically employing the same neutral perspective in each image, as in Water Towers. The nine nineteenth-century metal water towers are displayed in a grid as a single work, the black-and-white images revealing the differences between objects that had an identical function, and so bestowing an aesthetic value on them.”1

Here a definition of typology may be useful. ‘Typology’ is the study and interpretation of types and symbols, a classification according to a general type, especially in archaeology, psychology, or the social sciences. In this sense, the Becher’s photographs of industrial archetypes displayed in grids are excavations of historical types, representations of both pattern (type, grid) and randomness (interpretation, aesthetics). What does this mean? According to Katherine Hayles, pattern (in this case grids of photographs of the same archetype) cannot exist without its opposite, randomness, enacted through mutation of the code.

“Although mutation disrupts pattern, it also presupposes a morphological standard against which it can be measured and understood as mutation. We have seen that in electronic textuality, the possibility for mutation within the text are enhanced and heightened by long coding chains. We can now understand mutation in more fundamental terms. Mutation is critical because it names the bifurcation point at which the interplay between pattern and randomness causes the system to evolve in a new direction…

Mutation is the catastrophe in the pattern/randomness dialectic… It marks a rupture of pattern so extreme that the expectation of continuous replication can no longer be sustained… The randomness to which mutation testifies is implicit in the very idea of pattern, for only against the background of nonpattern can pattern emerge. Randomness is the contrasting term that allows pattern to be understood as such.”2

The pattern of the Bechers photographs are the grids, the randomness evidenced as we move in to observe individual images within the grid, for every water tower is different and its own form… and then we pull back to compare one image with another, one mutation with another. As we move closer the individual image becomes whole in its own right, but contains within the pictorial frame evidence of the subjects mutation through decay, evidence of an industrial revolution and means of production that is now archaic and arcane. It is as though we are looking at a fractal in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, but which in fact describe partly random or chaotic phenomena, the seeds of their own mutation. And the possibility for mutation within the text is enhanced and heightened by long coding chains, such as large typologies of objects and large grids of images.

As much as the Bechers objective photographs seek a cool sameness, they undermine their own project by their photographs inherent subversiveness. It’s as though the beauty of their object of desire is being played off against a rage against the machine, a critique of what industrialisation is doing to the divine landscape of the earth.

Of course images are always seen in context which, together with their formal characteristics and conditions, limits the meanings available from them at any one moment. As Annette Kuhn observes, “Meanings do not reside in images, then: they are circulated between representation, spectator and social function.”3 We understand the Bechers images then, through a representation of reality which always and necessarily entails, “the use of the codes and conventions of the available cultural forms of presentation. Such forms restrict and shape what can be said by and / or about any aspect of reality in a given place in a given society at a given time, but if that seems like a limitation on saying, it is also what makes saying possible at all.”4 Richard Dyer continues,

“I accept that one apprehends reality only through representations of reality, through texts, discourse, images; there is no such thing as unmediated access to reality. But because one can see reality only through representation, it does not follow that one does not see reality at all. Partial – selective, incomplete, from a point of view – vision of something is not no vision of it whatsoever.”4

Despite the Bechers attempt to catalogue vast typologies, there is no order without disorder. Their vision, and our vision, is only ever selective, incomplete and from a point of view. Much as they desire an enchantment of the subject so that the object of desire falls under their spell in order to validate its presence, so there is no single determinate meaning to any presentation of their work, for people make sense of images in different ways, according to the cultural codes available to them. “What is re-presented in representation is not directly reality itself but other representations. The analysis of images always needs to see how any given instance is embedded in a network of other instances…”4

The ghosts in the machine of the Bechers networks, those random bits of code that lurk behind a not so perfect representation, group together to form unexpected protocols seen from different points of view. “Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul.” (Asimov)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Anonymous. “A Movement in a Moment: The Düsseldorf School,” on the Phaidon website [Online] Cited 01/11/2022

2/ Katherine Hayles. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 33.

3/ Annette Kuhn. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 6.

4/ Richard Dyer. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3.

.
Many thankx to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I think it’s best to imagine that they cast a doubting eye on earlier aspirations to scientific and technical order. After all, the Bechers hit their stride as artists in the 1960s and early ’70s, at just the moment when any aspiring intellectual was reading Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which pointed to how the sociology of science (who holds power in labs and who doesn’t) shapes what science tells us. The French philosopher Roland Barthes had killed off the all-powerful author and let the rest of us be the true makers of meaning, even if that left it unstable. European societies were in turmoil as they faced the terrors of the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof gang, so brilliantly captured in the streaks and smears of Gerhard Richter, that other German giant of postwar art. The Bechers were working in that world of unsettled and unsettling ideas. By parroting the grammar of technical imagery, without actually achieving any technical goals, their photos seem to loosen technology’s moorings. By collecting water towers the way someone else might collect cookie jars, they cut industry down to size… To get the full meaning and impact of the Bechers’ Machine Age black-and-whites, they should really be viewed through the windows of their Information Age orange van.”

.
Blake Gopnik. “Photography’s Delightful Obsessives,” on The New York Times website July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 20/10/2022

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bernd & Hilla Becher' at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bernd & Hilla Becher at The Metropolitan Museum of Art showing at centre, Water Tower, Verviers, Belgium 1983, below
Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen/The Met

00 Basic Forms
01 Framework Houses
02 Early Work
03 Industrial Landscapes
04 Zeche Concordia
05 Art and Evolution
06 Typologies

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Tower, Verviers, Belgium' 1983

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Tower, Verviers, Belgium
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23 7/8 × 19 13/16 in. (60.6 × 50.4cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1992

 

 

Both as artists and teachers, Bernhard and Hilla Becher are among the most important figures in postwar German photography. For the last thirty years, the artists have examined the dilapidated industrial architecture of Europe and North America, from water towers and blast furnaces to the surrounding workers’ houses. Photographing against a blank sky and without any pictorial tricks or effects, the artists treat these forgotten structures as the exotic specimens of a long-dead species.

 

 

The renowned German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) changed the course of late twentieth-century photography. Working as a rare artist couple, they focused on a single subject: the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe and North America that fuelled the modern era. Their seemingly objective style recalled nineteenth- and early twentieth-century precedents but also resonated with the serial approach of contemporary Minimalism and Conceptual art. Equally significant, it challenged the perceived gap between documentary and fine-art photography.

Using a large-format view camera, the Bechers methodically recorded blast furnaces, winding towers, grain silos, cooling towers, and gas tanks with precision, elegance, and passion. Their rigorous, standardised practice allowed for comparative analyses of structures that they exhibited in grids of between four and thirty photographs. They described these formal arrangements as “typologies” and the buildings themselves as “anonymous sculpture.”

This posthumous retrospective celebrates the Bechers’ remarkable achievement and is the first ever organised with full access to the artists’ personal collection of working materials and their comprehensive archive.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) 'Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany' 1955-1956

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany
1955-1956
Graphite and watercolour on paper
16 5/16 × 16 5/16 in. (41.5 × 41.5cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

The earliest surviving independent works by Bernd Becher are several rare drawings and photocollages of the Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, made before the formation of his artistic partnership with Hilla Wobeser in 1959. These include the works presented on this wall and directly opposite. They reveal the artist’s lifelong interest in the accurate description of mining and manufacturing structures familiar to him from his childhood. Here, Bernd takes special care to focus on the mine’s wooden framework features and its idiosyncratic winding tower, which rises above the buildings like an enormous windblown flag.

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) 'Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany' 1957

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Eisernhardter Tiefbau Mine, Eisern, Germany
1957
Collage of five gelatin silver prints
Sheet: 15 3/4 × 11 3/4 in. (40 × 29.9cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) '[Assemblage of Pipes]' 1964 or later

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
[Assemblage of Pipes]
1964 or later
Gelatin silver prints with graphite
Sheet: 14 3/8 × 13 1/16 in. (36.5 × 33.2cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

This exceptional assemblage includes three razor-cut photographs of blast-furnace pipes braided together into a handsome knot. Part Giorgio de Chirico (one of the artist’s favourite painters), part pretzel, the metaphysical work shows Bernd Becher’s playful sense of humour and appreciation for the complexity and visual wonderment of industrial forms.

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) '[Mountain Elm Leaf]' 1965

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
[Mountain Elm Leaf]
1965
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 6 15/16 in. (23.7 × 17.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

In these studies of tree leaves, Hilla Becher is operating in a long tradition of natural realism that connects her work to that of many earlier German artists, including the photographs of Karl Blossfeldt and the printed botanical and zoological studies of Ernst Haeckel (see display case). What was important to Blossfeldt, Haeckel, and the Bechers was not simple exactitude but a particular type of graphic description and presentation that could reveal the unique, often quirky, and at times humorous structure of any form.

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) '[Spruce Branch]' 1965

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
[Spruce Branch]
1965
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16 in. (24 × 17.9cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne.

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934–2015) '[Shell, for the German Industrial Exhibition, Khartoum, Sudan]' 1961

 

Hilla Becher (German, 1934–2015)
[Shell, for the German Industrial Exhibition, Khartoum, Sudan]
1961
Gelatin silver print
15 3/8 × 11 7/8 in. (39 × 30.1cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne.

 

 

Even after the establishment of the Bechers’ professional partnership in 1959, Hilla continued to accept commission work. She produced this study of the inner architecture of a seashell as a graphic for a display of industrial design at a German trade fair in Khartoum. This vintage photograph was copied and used by the pavilion designer as oversize enlargements. Hilla also documented the interior and exterior of the innovative prefabricated shed pavilion with its lively metal banding.

 

Ernst Haeckel (German, 1834-1919) "Echinidea. – Igelsterne" 'Kunstformen der Natur' (Leipzig and Vienna: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904)

 

Ernst Haeckel (German, 1834-1919)
“Echinidea. – Igelsterne”
Kunstformen der Natur (Leipzig and Vienna: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904)
1904
Lithograph
Sheet: 13 5/8 × 10 1/4 in. (34.6 × 26cm)
Joyce Frank Menschel Library, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

For both research purposes and aesthetic pleasure, Hilla Becher assembled a collection of illustrated books dedicated to scientific classification. None on the theme of biological order was more important to the artists’ development than Ernst Haeckel’s 1904 Kunstformen der Natur. The plate from a disbound volume presented here shows a typological comparison of sea urchins and sand dollars.

 

 

From July 15 to November 6, 2022, the renowned American museum is showing a retrospective of the important artist couple in cooperation with Studio Bernd & Hilla Becher, Dusseldorf, and Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne.

Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007, 1934-2015) are among the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century. Since the 1960s, their works have provided decisive impetus for photography, art and also generally for dealing with our culture, economy, science and society. For more than 50 years, the artist couple has devoted themselves to the subject of the industrial landscape, the functional buildings and constructions of the mining industry in Western Europe and North America. They created countless black-and-white photographs, which they took with their large-format cameras, of winding towers, blast furnaces, water and cooling towers, coal bunkers, gas tanks, half-timbered houses, entire industrial plants and landscapes. The photographs show precise, at the same time analytical views and individual forms, which Bernd and Hilla Becher subjected to a comparative analysis. So-called typologies, unfolding photographic sets or also large-format typologically conceived individual photographs were the results of their collaboration, which they exhibited internationally and published in monographs. Works that received a special appreciation under the term “Anonymous Sculptures” and attained top-class awards.

The method used by the Bechers can be regarded as style-defining. It transformed the descriptive, objective view of photography of the 19th and early 20th century, which the artist couple highly valued, into a new era, integrating it into clearly sequenced series of images and thus at the same time pointing to perspectives of minimal and conceptual art, which further underscores the innovative power of their work.

Between 1976 and 1996 Bernd Becher taught at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf. Numerous well-known photographers and artists emerged from his photography class. As of the 1960s Bernd and Hilla Becher had their studio in Dusseldorf. Today the studio is being continued as the Bernd & Hilla Becher Studio by their son, estate administrator and artist Max Becher. From 1995 until their death, the artist couple worked together with Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne, from which the Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive emerged. The majority of the exhibition is furnished from this collection, including numerous previously little-shown and unknown materials by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Overall, the retrospective, which will be on view in a second venue at the SFMoMA between December 17, 2022 and April 2, 2023, introduces all of the artist couple’s areas of work.

The exhibition was curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator, Department of Photographs, assisted by Virginia McBride, Research Associate, Department of Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Bernd and Max Becher, Kintzel Coal Company, Big Lick Mountains, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania' 1978

 

Unknown photographer
Bernd and Max Becher, Kintzel Coal Company, Big Lick Mountains, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania
1978
Chromogenic print
4 3/8 × 3 7/16 in. (11.1 × 8.8cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ensdorf Mine, Saarland, Germany' 1979

 

Unknown photographer
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ensdorf Mine, Saarland, Germany
1979
Gelatin silver print
4 3/4 × 5 9/16 in. (12 × 14.1cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Their camera’s lens, facing Hilla, has been raised higher than the film plane that’s facing Bernd, a trick that lets them capture the tops of tall structures.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hilla Becher, Youngstown, Ohio, United States' 1981

 

Unknown photographer
Hilla Becher, Youngstown, Ohio, United States
1981
Instant diffusion transfer print (Polaroid)
2 7/8 × 3 3/4 in. (7.3 × 9.5cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bouwen voor de Industrie in de 19e en 20e eeuw, een fotografische dokumentatie door Bernd en Hilla Becher, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands 1968

 

Bouwen voor de Industrie in de 19e en 20e eeuw, een fotografische dokumentatie door Bernd en Hilla Becher, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
1968
Photomechanical reproduction
Sheet: 34 5/8 × 24 3/16 in. (88 × 61.5cm)
Frame: 36 15/16 × 26 7/16 in. (93.8 × 67.2cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher were notoriously exacting about how their photographs were constructed in the camera, printed in the darkroom, and sequenced and reproduced in their many publications. Interestingly, they were rather generous with how and where their photographs were used in other printed materials, such as promotional leaflets, invitations, and exhibition posters. The posters gathered in this exhibition display a variety of typographic treatments and arrangements.

 

Bernd och Hilla Becher, Form genom Funktion, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden 1970

 

Bernd och Hilla Becher, Form genom Funktion, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
1970
Photomechanical reproduction
Sheet: 39 5/16 × 27 1/2 in. (99.8 × 69.8cm)
Frame: 41 9/16 × 29 3/4 in. (105.6 × 75.6cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd und Hilla Becher, Typologien industrieller Bauten, Museum für Fotografie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany 2005

 

Bernd und Hilla Becher, Typologien industrieller Bauten, Museum für Fotografie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany
2005
Photomechanical reproduction
Sheet: 46 7/8 × 33 1/16 in. (119 × 84cm)
Frame: 49 1/16 × 35 5/16 in. (124.6 × 89.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Bernd & Hilla Becher, First Posthumous Retrospective of the Highly Influential Photographers to Open at The Met July 15

Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) are widely considered the most influential German photographers of the postwar period. Working as a rare artist couple, they developed a rigorous practice focused on a single subject: the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe and North America that fueled the modern era. Opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on July 15, 2022, Bernd & Hilla Becher features some 200 works of art and is the artists’ first posthumous retrospective of their 50-year career. It is organised with full access to the Becher’s comprehensive archive and personal collection of working materials and is the first American retrospective since 1974 (when their mature style was still evolving).

The exhibition is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel, the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation, the Edward John & Patricia Rosenwald Foundation, and Linda Macklowe. It is organised by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in association with Studio Bernd & Hilla Becher and Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher changed the course of late 20th-century photography, and their groundbreaking work continues to influence artists to this day,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. “It is a privilege to present this first posthumous retrospective and to celebrate their legacy and remarkable artistic achievement.”

 

Exhibition Overview

The Bechers seemingly objective aesthetic looked back to 19th- and early 20th-century precedents but also resonated with the serial, premeditated progressions of contemporary Minimalism and Conceptual art. Equally significant, their aesthetic challenged the perceived gap between documentary and fine-art photography. The artists used a large-format view camera – similar to those used by 19th-century photographers such as the Bisson Frères in France and Carleton Watkins in the American West – and spurned the handheld, 35 mm roll-film cameras of the type preferred by journalists and pre- and postwar artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. They worked exclusively with black-and-white photographic materials, intentionally avoiding the medium’s inevitable move to colour that took place during the 1960s and 1970s, and methodically recorded blast furnaces, winding towers, grain silos, cooling towers, and gas tanks with precision, elegance, and passion. Their standardised approach allowed for comparative analyses of structures that they exhibited in grids of between 4 and 30 photographs. They described these formal arrangements as “typologies” and the buildings themselves as “anonymous sculpture.”

The Bechers had a direct and profound influence on several generations of students at the renowned art academy Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where Bernd was appointed the first professor of photography in 1976. Among the members of the so-called Becher School or Düsseldorf School of Photography are some of the most recognised German artists of the past 40 years, such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Ruff.

Featured in the exhibition alongside the individual and grids of photographs for which the Bechers are best known are extraordinary works in photography and other media executed by them before and after the formation of their creative partnership in 1959. These rarely seen lithographs, collages, photographs, ink and pencil sketches, Polaroids, and personal snapshots offer a deep understanding of the artists’ working methods and intellectual processes.

Following its debut at The Met, the exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), where it will be on view from December 17, 2022 through April 2, 2023. Bernd & Hilla Becher is curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, with assistance from Virginia McBride, Research Assistant in the Department of Photographs, both at The Met. The Met developed the exhibition with Max Becher, the artists’ son, and with Gabriele Conrath-Scholl, director of the Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne, where the artists’ vast photographic print archive is preserved.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly publication, the first posthumous monograph published on the Bechers. It features essays by Gabriele Conrath-Scholl; Dr. Virginia Heckert, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and an expert on the Bechers; and Lucy Sante, arts critic, essayist, artist, and visiting professor of writing and photography at Bard College. The publication also includes an extensive interview with Max Becher that, together with the essays, introduces and surveys the Bechers’ photographs and the significance of their achievement over a remarkably productive half-century career. The catalogues is made possible by the Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh Publications Fund.

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Blast Furnaces (United States, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and Belgium)' 1968-1993

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Blast Furnaces (United States, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and Belgium)
1968-1993
Gelatin silver prints
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

 

Such series may have been less about the glories of heavy industry than its approaching demise in the West.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio, United States' 1983

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio, United States
1983
Gelatin silver print
23 1/8 × 18 1/4 in. (58.8 × 46.4cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

The buildings Bernd and Hilla Becher chose to photograph were meant to be altered or demolished when superseded technologically. Given the planned obsolescence of their subjects, the artists’ timing played an important role in the success of their practice. In one of their last books, Industrial Landscapes (2002), they commented: “Once we were in northern France, where we found a wonderful headgear [the top of a blast furnace] – a veritable Eiffel Tower. When we arrived the weather was hazy and not ideal for our work so we decided to postpone taking the photos for a day. When we arrived the next day, it had already been torn down, the dust was in the air.”

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Gravel Plants' 1988-2001

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Gravel Plants
1988-2001
Gelatin silver prints

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Gravel Plant, Günzburg, Germany' 1989

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Gravel Plant, Günzburg, Germany
1989
Gelatin silver print
24 3/16 × 19 3/16 in. (61.4 × 48.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bernd and Hilla Becher completed a thorough documentation of the many gravel plants in and near Günzburg, a small city on the Danube River in Bavaria. This oddly shaped yet functional building was used as a stone breaker to produce gravel, the still-lucrative industrial material required for making roads and high-quality concrete. The asymmetrical facade delights the eye, recalling the Bechers’ frequently stated agenda: “We were fascinated above all by the shape of technical architecture, and hardly by its history.”

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Cooling Tower, Zeche Mont Cenis, Herne, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1965

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Tower, Zeche Mont Cenis, Herne, Ruhr Region, Germany
1965
Gelatin silver print
23 5/8 x 18 1/4 in. (60.5 x 46.4cm)
Collection of James Kieth Brown and Eric Diefenbach

 

 

Influenced by the formal rigour and conceptual methods of pre-World War II artists, such as August Sander and Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Becher were considered equals and fellow travellers by Minimalist sculptors, such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt. They treated their subject matter – the disappearing industrial architecture of the West – as “anonymous sculpture.” Here, a fabulous tower used to cool water at the Mont Cenis colliery rises from the ground like a modernist top hat made for a wooden giant. In 1978, just thirteen years after the Bechers visited the busy complex, it closed permanently, ending more than one hundred years of coal extraction on the site.

The Bechers photographed against a blank sky and without any pictorial tricks or effects, using an old-fashioned tripod-mounted view camera of the kind used by Eugène Atget and Walker Evans. They treated their subjects as “anonymous sculpture” (the name of their first monograph) that could only be fully rendered through either multiple views from different perspectives or more often, through the typological accumulation and serial presentation of multiple specimens. Although they were artists not scientists, the Bechers used an almost Linnean system of classification – another important 19th century precedent which they made resolutely modern.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Cooling Tower, Caerphilly, South Wales, Great Britain' 1966

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Tower, Caerphilly, South Wales, Great Britain
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 5/8 × 11 3/4 in. (37.1 × 29.9cm)
Gift of the LeWitt Family, in memory of Bernd and Hilla Becher, 2018

 

 

As both artists and professors at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, the husband-and-wife team of Bernd and Hilla Becher have influenced an entire generation of German photographers with their typological approach to the medium, in which a single archetypal subject is described through an accumulation of diverse examples. For more than three decades, they have systematically examined the dilapidated industrial architecture of Europe and North America, from water towers and blast furnaces to the surrounding workers’ houses, all recorded against a blank sky and without expressive effects. As it developed in the 1960s, the Bechers’ project chimed with Conceptual Art in its emphasis on impersonal series as well as with older traditions of objective photography as practiced by such artists such as August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers (Wood)' 1976

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers (Wood)
1976
Gelatin silver prints
16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5cm), each
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers (Wood)' 1976 (detail)

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers (Wood) (detail)
1976
Gelatin silver prints
16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5cm), each
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers (Wood) (detail)
1976
Gelatin silver prints
16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5cm), each
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The Bechers’ purpose has always been to make the clearest possible photographs of industrial structures. They are not interested in making euphemistic, socio-romantic pictures glorifying industry, nor doom-laden spectacles showing its costs and dangers. Equally, they have nothing in common with photographers who seek to make pleasing modernist abstractions, treating the structures as decorative shapes divorced from their function.

The Bechers’ goal is to create photographs that are concentrated on the structures themselves and not qualified by subjective interpretations. To them, these structures are the ‘architecture of engineers’ and their pictures should be seen as the photography of engineers – that is, record pictures. …

[Record photographers are the unsung heroes of the history of photography. They are the anonymous commercial photographers who were commissioned to record both great and everyday industrial and civic projects, from the construction of canals to the blooming of floral clocks.]

The Bechers are fascinated by the idiosyncratic appearance of each structure. The mass-produced, design-conscious assemblies devised by architects with an eye on appearance do not appeal as much as those with a mindfulness of function. What interests the Bechers are constructions made by engineers whose plans are pragmatic, where function dictates the form, rather than, as is increasingly the case, the other way round. In the words of Bernd: ‘There is a form of architecture that consists in essence of apparatus, that has nothing to do with design, and nothing to do with architecture either. They are engineering constructions with their own aesthetic.’

Their fascination is rooted in an understanding of the structures. The Bechers are the first to acknowledge the primarily functional role of the constructions, that their existence is justified solely by their industrial performance, and that once this has been superseded the structures will be modified or demolished. They liken the way a blast furnace develops over time, as furnaces and pipework are added, to the organic but apparently chaotic growth of a medieval city. This purpose-led rationale is what attracts them. They refer to some of the structures as ‘nomadic architecture’. Once they photographed a blast furnace that was being dismantled by Chinese workers in Luxembourg, who then had to reassemble it in China.

By placing photographs of similar subjects alongside each other, the individual differences emerge, making the fine details in each picture more noticeable, more distinct. Drawing on this, they began exhibiting the pictures as typologies; by the early 1960s they showed their work only in typological groups. Typically, a piece of work would comprise four small prints of, for example, water towers, adjacent to a larger print of one of the four. They would not supply prints of individual pictures; the typology was the work. Later, their typologies contained prints of equal size, measuring 30 cm by 40 cm. It could be three rows of five prints, a grid of nine or, in one case, 28 blast furnaces in three rows; a symphony of industrial structures.

The Bechers’ pictures do not have to be viewed in typologies in order to make sense, as they have validity as individual images. The typology has been developed for two reasons. First, by amassing such a detailed survey of industrial structures they are revealing sets and subsets, much like 19th-century zoologists did. With water towers, for example, there are round steel ones with conical tops, like hats, and semi-circular ones. Others are circular with sloping roofs, or without roofs, or on steel derricks, or brick towers, and so on. The more fine the differences, the better they are illustrated by the typology.

Second, the typology used by the Bechers emphasises the rewards of close scrutiny, and it is this that makes each and every one of their pictures fascinating. By presenting 15 water towers in a grid, the first effect is an imposing mass of industrial structures. You must stand back in order to take them all in as a group, but to look closer at an individual picture it is necessary to draw nearer.

Up close, only one tower is visible at a time. Isolated in pristine, black-and-white definition, this everyday object is revealed as an ‘anonymous sculpture’, an unostentatious but fabulous creation by mankind. To compare it with the others is to stand back again, and from here the impulse is to step up and examine another. Just as the beauty of the individual structure (for that is what they are) is there to see, so together as a typology they are a thrilling spectacle. …

There is a wisdom and honour in the Bechers’ work which frees them from imposing a conditional reading upon the viewer. The wisdom is the methodology they recognise in the ‘neutral’ depiction of record photography. The honour stems from a principle about not imposing their ideas on other people.

Hilla and Bernd both grew up under Adolf Hitler. They saw how he corrupted German art to promote his propaganda. This was particularly pertinent to photography, and it remained tainted after the war; witness the grim examples of Leni Riefensthal’s glorifying images of Nazis and the pseudo-scientific eugenic portrait studies that were published to defend anti-semitism and supremacism. This is why the legacy of August Sander (1876-1964), whose neutral approach to portraiture was damned by the Nazis, is so precious in Germany. It is also why the Bechers’ continuing example is extremely important. …

Because photography has, for so long, been used for commercial reasons, notably in advertising, people are accustomed to absorbing manipulative images, and have come to expect – or even rely on – a conditional presentation. Take away this interpretative control and the viewer is left free, which is unnerving if one is not used to it. This is why some regard the Bechers’ photographs as ‘cold’. There is no editorial, no soundtrack, no suggestions nor judgments. You are left to your own devices.

Of course, their motivations are not invisible, nor their presence unfelt. What does it mean when something ‘rings true’? How is it that one can sense the sincerity in another’s words? Perhaps this lies in the realm of intuition, not explanation. To analyse art is not necessarily to experience it. Sometimes, by focusing on a deliberation of it, one limits the engagement to a cerebral encounter. In the West particularly, we use explanations to try to control the unknown, to make uncertainties certain. Maybe there is a wisdom we have that is not learnt but is within us. Far better to look rather than puzzle, and to open one’s senses to what is there.

Here lies the wonder in the Bechers’ photographs. They are like rounding a hill and seeing a view spread out before you. In Cwmcynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, South Wales, 1966, a minehead stands above lines of terraced houses in the village. The giant pair of wheels on top of the single-tier steel headframe is an engineer’s structure. A device to do a job, not to win design awards. You could not dream up such structures, neither could you invent, say, your grandparents’ kitchen. These things arise from the conditions in which they are used.

They are the lines on the face of the world. The photographs are portraits of our history. And when the structures have been demolished and grassed over, as though they were never there, the pictures remain.

Michael Collins, “The long look,” Tate Research Publication, 2002 originally published in Tate Magazine issue 1 on the Tate website [Online] Cited 01/11/2022

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Winding Towers (Belgium and France)' 1967-1988

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Winding Towers (Belgium and France)
1967-1988
Gelatin silver prints
15 15/16 × 12 3/8 in. (40.5 × 31.5cm), each
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Winding Tower, Cwm Cynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, South Wales, Great Britain' 1966

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Winding Tower, Cwm Cynon Colliery, Mountain Ash, South Wales, Great Britain
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 9/16 × 11 13/16 in. (39.6 × 30cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Winding Tower, Zeche Neu-Iserlohn, Bochum, Germany' 1963

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Winding Tower, Zeche Neu-Iserlohn, Bochum, Germany
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 9/16 × 11 1/4 in. (39.5 × 28.5cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Towers (Germany, France, Belgium, United States, and Great Britain)' 1963-1980

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Towers (Germany, France, Belgium, United States, and Great Britain)
1963-1980
Gelatin silver prints
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

 

Is there some quiet comedy in revealing all the ways industry has managed the single job of storing water?

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Towers (New York, United States)' 1978–1979

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Towers (New York, United States)
1978-1979
Gelatin silver prints
15 15/16 × 12 3/8 in. (40.5 × 31.5cm), each
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Water Towers (New York, United States)' 1978–1979 (detail)

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Water Towers (New York, United States)(detail)
1978-1979
Gelatin silver prints
15 15/16 × 12 3/8 in. (40.5 × 31.5cm), each
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

One wall is gridded up with photos of industrial cooling towers, portrayed in wildly detailed black-and-white.

Another gives us 30 different views of blast furnaces, at plants across Western Europe and the United States. You can just about make out each bolt in their twisting pipework.

An entire gallery surveys the vast Concordia coal plant in Oberhausen, Germany: Teeming photos present its gas-storage tanks, its “lean gas generator,” its “quenching tower,” its “coke pushers.”

These and something like another 450 images fill “Bernd & Hilla Becher,” a fascinating, frankly gorgeous show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met’s curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim, has organized a thorough retrospective for the Bechers, a German couple who made some of the most influential art photos of the past half-century. Bernd (1931-2007) and Hilla (1934-2015) mentored generations of students at Düsseldorf’s great Kunstakademie, whose alumni include major photographic artists such as Andreas Gursky and Candida Höfer.

But for all the heft of the heavy industry on view in the Met show – it’s easy to imagine the stink and smoke and racket that pressed in on the Bechers as they worked – you come away with an overall impression of lightness, of delightful order, even sometimes of gentle comedy.

Wall after wall of gridded grays soothe the eye and calm the soul, like the orderly, light-filled abstractions of Agnes Martin or Sol LeWitt. The very fact of gathering 16 different water towers, from both sides of the Atlantic, onto a single museum wall helps to domesticate them, removing their industrial angst and original functions and turning them into something like curios, or collectibles. A catalog essay refers to the Bechers’ “rigorous documentation of thousands of industrial structures,” which is right – but it’s the rigour of a trainspotter, not an engineer. Despite their concrete grandeur, the assorted water towers come off as faintly ridiculous: Whether you’re collecting cookie jars or vintage wines – or shots of water towers – it’s as much about our human instinct to amass and organise as it is about the actual things you collect.

Consider the 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) that launched Andy Warhol’s pop career, which are a vital precedent for the Bechers’ ordered seriality. You can read the Soup Cans as a critical portrayal of American consumerism, but a catalog of canned soups also reads as a quiet joke, at least when it’s presented for the sake of art, not shopping. Ditto, I think, for the Bechers’ famous “typologies” of industrial buildings, presented without anything like an industrial goal.

Indeed, the one thing you don’t come away with from the Becher show is real knowledge of mechanical engineering, or coal processing, or steel making. In long-ago student days, I cut out and framed a wallful of images from the Bechers’ glorious book of blast-furnace photos. (Their art has always existed as much in their books as in exhibitions.) After living with my furnaces for a decade or so, I can’t say I could have passed a quiz from Smelting 101.

Early coverage referred to the Bechers as “photographer-archaeologists” and the Met’s catalog talks about how they revealed the “functional characteristics of industrial structures.” There are certainly parallels between the preternatural clarity and unmediated “objectivity” of their images and earlier, purely technical and scientific photos meant to teach about the constructions and processes of industry. The Bechers admired such pictures. But however systematic their own project might seem, its goal was art, which means it was always bound to let function and meaning float free.

I think it’s best to imagine that they cast a doubting eye on earlier aspirations to scientific and technical order. After all, the Bechers hit their stride as artists in the 1960s and early ’70s, at just the moment when any aspiring intellectual was reading Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which pointed to how the sociology of science (who holds power in labs and who doesn’t) shapes what science tells us. French philosopher Roland Barthes had killed off the all-powerful author and let the rest of us be the true makers of meaning, even if that left it unstable. European societies were in turmoil as they faced the terrors of the Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof gang, so brilliantly captured in the streaks and smears of Gerhard Richter, that other German giant of postwar art. The Bechers were working in that world of unsettled and unsettling ideas. By parroting the grammar of technical imagery, without actually achieving any technical goals, their photos seem to loosen technology’s moorings. By collecting water towers the way someone else might collect cookie jars, they cut industry down to size.

The Bechers weren’t the only artists working that seam. Their era’s conceptualists also played games with science and industry. When John Baldessari had himself photographed throwing three balls into the air so they’d form a straight line, he was simulating experimentation, not aiming for any real experimental result: The repeated throwing and its failure was the point, not the straight line that could never get formed, anyway. When the Bechers’ friend Robert Smithson poured oceans of glue down a hillside or bulldozed dirt onto a shed until its roof cracked, he was mimicking the moves of heroic construction, not aiming to build anything.

What made the Bechers different from their peers is that they did their mimicking from the inside: They used the language of advanced photographic technology to inhabit the technophilic world they portrayed. Their photos are almost as constructed as any “lean gas generator” they might depict. The just-the-facts-ma’am objectivity of their images is only achieved through serious photographic artifice.

Take the Bechers’ four-square photos of four-square workers’ houses. Several houses are photographed from so close that, standing right in front of them, you’d never take in their entire facades at one glance, as the Bechers do in their images. It takes a wide-angle lens to allow that trick, and only if it’s installed on the kind of technical view camera whose bellows lets lens and film slide in opposite directions. That’s how the Bechers manage to line up our eyes with the top step on a stoop (we see it edge-on) while also catching the home’s gables, high above.

The preternatural level of detail on view and its glorious range of grays and blacks require negatives the size of a man’s hand, a tripod as big as a sapling, lens filters and an advanced darkroom technique. And the couple were relying on such labour-intensive technology at just the moment when most of their photographic peers, and millions of average people, had moved on to cameras and film that let them shoot on the fly, in lab-processed colour. With the Bechers, the “decisive moment” of 35 mm photography gets replaced by a gray-on-gray stasis that feels as though it could last forever – as though it’s as immovable as the steel girders it depicts.

But, in fact, those steel girders were more time-bound than the Bechers’ photos let on. “Just as Medieval thinking manifested itself in Gothic cathedrals, our era reveals itself in technological equipment and buildings,” the Bechers once declared, yet the era they revealed wasn’t really the one they were working in. In many cases, their factories and plants and mines were about to close when the Bechers shot them – a few had already been abandoned – as Western economies made the switch to services and design and computing. The outdatedness of the Bechers’ technique matches up with their subjects. Both represent a last-gasp moment in the “industrial” revolution, which is why there’s something almost poignant about this show.

One of its most revealing moments involves a film, not a photo, and it’s not even by the power couple. The Bechers’ young son, Max, who has since become a noted artist in his own right, once captured his parents in moving colour as they set out to document silos in the American Midwest. Max filmed Bernd and Hilla unloading their heavy-duty equipment, still much as it was in Victorian times, from a classic Volkswagen camper of the 1960s. It was an absurdly underpowered machine, but who could resist its colourful paint job or its mod lines and stylings?

To get the full meaning and impact of the Bechers’ Machine Age black-and-whites, they should really be viewed through the windows of their Information Age orange van.

Blake Gopnik. “Photography’s Delightful Obsessives,” on The New York Times website July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 30/07/2022

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Lime Kiln, Brielle, Netherlands' 1968

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Lime Kiln, Brielle, Netherlands
1968
Gelatin silver print
24 in. × 19 1/2 in. (61 × 49.5cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

Lime, an important building material since ancient times, is used in the production of mortar and cement. Here, the Bechers focused their attention on six towering brick chimneys that look as much like sprouting asparagus as utilitarian structures. The artists chose a similar view of lime kilns for the cover image of Anonyme Skulpturen (1970), their ambitious first publication. The book presents comparative sequences of different industrial forms, from kilns and gasometers to cooling towers, blast furnaces, and winding towers.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Gas Tank, Wesseling / Cologne, Germany' 1983

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Gas Tank, Wesseling / Cologne, Germany
1983
24 in. × 19 13/16 in. (60.9 × 50.3cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Framework House, Schloßblick 17, Kaan-Marienborn, Siegen, Germany' 1962

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Framework House, Schloßblick 17, Kaan-Marienborn, Siegen, Germany
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 7/8 × 11 5/8 in. (40.3 × 29.6cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

 

Both as artists and teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher are the most important figures in European photography since 1950. Influenced by the formal rigour and typological method of prewar artists such as August Sander and Walker Evans, they were considered equals and fellow travellers by Minimalist sculptors such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt and paved the way for the medium’s integration into the broader arena of contemporary art. As professors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, their influence was paramount on the celebrated generation of photographers known as the “Düsseldorf School” such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, and Candida Höfer.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany' 1969

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 13/16 × 11 11/16 in. (40.2 × 29.7cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany' 1969

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
High Tension Pylon near Düsseldorf, Germany
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. (40 x 29.2cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jade Lau Gift, 2018

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Comparative Juxtaposition, Nine Objects, Each with a Different Function' 1961-1972

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Comparative Juxtaposition, Nine Objects, Each with a Different Function
1961-1972
Gelatin silver prints
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher

 

 

These photographs show that the photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher were sometimes more interested in aesthetic form than in what industry actually does.

Bernd and Hilla Becher found artistic inspiration in the under appreciated beauty of the built environment, specifically, commonplace industrial and residential architecture. The Bechers’ use of typological ordering, as seen here in a grid of fifteen framework-house studies, can be traced to Hilla’s interest in the concepts of taxonomy and morphology, which are systems of biological classification based on shape and function. They called their assemblages “typologies” and used this effective graphic structure to compare similar and different forms, as would a researcher studying a collection of fossils or butterflies.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Terre Rouge, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg' 1979

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Terre Rouge, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
1979
Gelatin silver print
17 5/8 × 23 1/2 in. (44.8 × 59.7cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Charleroi-Montignies, Belgium' 1971

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Charleroi-Montignies, Belgium
1971
Gelatin silver print
19 in. × 23 1/4 in. (48.2 × 59cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007) 'Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1999

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher (German, active 1959-2007)
Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany
1999
19 3/8 × 23 7/8 in. (49.2 × 60.6cm)
Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, courtesy Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – Bernd & Hilla Becher Archive, Cologne

 

 

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06
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann’ at Kicken Berlin

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 7th October 2022

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Schöneweide, Berlin' 1972, printed c. 1972

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Schöneweide, Berlin
1972, printed c. 1972
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

This exhibition finishes tomorrow, Friday 7th October 2022.

I adore the small intimacies and dark German noir of the early 1970s – 1980s photographs of East Berlin and New York – papier-mâché models dancing, shop windows, desolate buildings, bound statues, ballroom encounters and alienated human beings. The photographs have a very pared back aesthetic, a very cool hands off, socialist feel to them.

Masks upon masks upon masks and hostile glances. People lonely, unhappy and isolated, rushing for work with nary a thought for each other. And then the ecstasy and fear of Mauerpark, Berlin (1996, below).

Taking the position of a slightly aloof observer, Bergemann’s urban landscapes and street scenes bare melancholy and beauty. The poetics of the everyday.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Kicken Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in this post. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled (Mitte)' 1968, printed c. 1968

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled (Mitte)
1968, printed c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.5 x 17.8 cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Katharina Thalbach, Berlin' 1973, early print

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Katharina Thalbach, Berlin
1973, early print
Gelatin silver print
38.6 x 26cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Katharina Thalbach (German, actually Katharina Joachim genannt Thalbach, born 19 January 1954) is a German actress and stage director. She played theatre at the Berliner Ensemble and at the Volksbühne Berlin, and was actress in the film The Tin Drum. She worked as a theatre and opera director.

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin' 1975, printed c. 1975

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin
1975, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 20cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, Bergemann’s Kirsten, Hoppenrade (1975, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Kirsten, Hoppenrade' 1975, posthumous print 2016

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Kirsten, Hoppenrade
1975, posthumous print 2016
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 43.3cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Sibylle Bergemann’s Clärchens Ballhaus (1976, some photographs below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17 x 23.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17.4 x 25.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
26.1 x 17.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17.9 x 25.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 16.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.4 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
25.6 x 17.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.5 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 16.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Buchholz, Berlin' 1977, printed c. 1977-1979

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Buchholz, Berlin
1977, printed c. 1977-1979
Gelatin silver print
22.6 x 33.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Clärchens Ballroom

History

Fritz Bühler (1862-1929) and his wife Clara Bühler (1886-1971) opened Bühler’s Ballhaus on September 13, 1913, in the rear building at Auguststrasse 24/25. The house was built around 1895 with two halls: the dance hall on the ground floor and the hall of mirrors on the upper floor. After Fritz Bühler’s death, Clara initially continued to run the dance hall, popularly known as Clärchens Ballhaus after its owner, on her own. In 1932 she married Arthur Habermann (1885-1967), who supported her in her work. The front building was in World War IIdestroyed, but operations resumed after the end of the war. Clärchens Ballhaus always remained a private company during the GDR era. In 1965, after much pressure, the ruins of the former front building were removed, the area is still undeveloped today. From 1967 to 1989 the management of the ballroom went to Clärchen’s stepdaughter Elfriede Wolff (daughter of Arthur Habermann). Then their son Stefan took over the business. After German reunification, Clara Habermann’s biological daughter was granted the property, whose son in turn sold the building in 2003 as the next heir. The new owner, Hans-Joachim Sander, left the family business, which then ceased operations after 91 years.

After the previous operators left the Ballhaus on New Year’s Eve 2004, Christian Schulz and David Regehr took over the location and left it largely unchanged. Since then, the space in front of the Ballhaus has also been managed, where the front building stood before the Second World War. The hall of mirrors on the upper floor, which was only used as a storage room for years, has since been used as an event room.

In the summer of 2018 the house was bought by Yoram Roth. He chose the Berlin catering company Berlin Cuisine Jensen GmbH as a partner for the construction of a new restaurant and as the operator of the location, with which Clärchens Ballhaus reopened in July 2020.

Importance

Clärchen’s ball house is one of the last remaining ball houses from around 1900 in Berlin. During the GDR era, it was known to both East and West Germans as a meeting place. In the media it was repeatedly represented in reports, for example in the film by Wilma Pradetto about the cloakroom operator Günter Schmidtke, in the documentary Edith bei Clärchen ( Andreas Kleinert 1985) or on ZDF . It also served as a filming location for movies Stauffenberg (2004), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and We Do It For Money (2014). In 2019 Max Raabe’s MTV Unplugged concert was recorded in the Ballhaus .

In addition to evening events, dance courses also take place in the Ballhaus.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin' 1978, printed c. 1989

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
1978, printed c. 1989
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980 (1980, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980' / 'The Monument, Gummlin, Usedom, December 1980' 1980, printed later

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980 / The Monument, Gummlin, Usedom, December 1980
1980, printed later
Gelatin silver print
36.2 x 53.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at right, Bergemann’s Berlin (Frieda) (1982, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin (Frieda)' 1982, printed c. 1982

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin (Frieda)
1982, printed c. 1982
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, some photographs from the series below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, some photographs from the series below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984 From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print, early print
29.2 x 44cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 38.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 45.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print from the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 44.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Union Square' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Union Square
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 36.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 36.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
19.2 x 29cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
30.1 x 44.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 26.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
23.3 x 34.7cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 18.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing a photograph from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
29 x 19.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

As the fourth part of the exhibition series ‘Sheroes of Photography’ started last year and on the occasion of the artist’s comprehensive exhibition this summer at the Berlinische Galerie, Kicken Berlin will be showing a selection of rarely seen series from Sibylle Bergemann’s extensive oeuvre in a cooperation with her estate.

Sibylle Bergemann is considered one of the most important German photographers since the 1970s. Together with her husband, Arno Fischer, she assumed a key position in the GDR’s photo scene and published her works in renowned art and culture journals such as Sibylle, Sonntag and Das Magazin and in book publications. After reunification, she extended her radius to include West German and international commissions. A cofounder of Agentur Ostkreuz in 1990, she helped shape a responsible form of visual journalism. Her photographic essays reflected societal reality without whitewashing it and often moved symbolically beyond. Fashion and portrait photography were on equal footing among her central themes alongside urban landscapes and situative street scenes, just as was the poetics of the everyday. Sibylle Bergemann’s works are held by international museums and collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; and the Berlinische Galerie.

People and places significantly influenced and inspired Bergemann’s work. In Berlin, her home base, the photographer sought out the quiet places on the city’s edge, rather than the representative center, for both private and commissioned works. Travels to “non-socialist places abroad” were strictly regimented and nearly impossible. “I always had Fernweh,” or a longing for the faraway, Bergemann said reminiscing during a conversation with the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation. Already in 1984, however, long before the fall of the Wall, she was able to travel to New York and Los Angeles as a member of the Verband Bildender Künstler (Association of Fine Artists).

From the early 1970s, Sibylle Bergemann assumed a position of observer in Berlin, participating in the situation, yet reserved. She had an eye for particular places and people, for unexpected encounters, for the particularities of foreign quotidian scenes, for melancholy and beauty. The transformations and transitory moments of the everyday never failed to draw the photographer’s attention, be it in the GDR, during the transition of reunification, or thereafter. She exposed a poetic and even visionary potential, such as in the series Das Denkmal (The Monument) about the Marx-Engels monument by sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt.

Her sense of nuance within a milieu, a social microcosm, is made visible in the series Clärchens Ballhaus from the 1970s. Another series about women in the working world in the early 1990s will be shown with several select examples for the first time publicly in Kicken Berlin’s exhibition. Women in a large variety of fields – offices, businesses, workshops, in both urban and rural settings, in primary and secondary sectors – stand before the camera to state their position, quite literally. They retain their own space and their own dignity, even when possibly in a state of upheaval.

Observing her foreign and uncertain but also intriguing and new surroundings, Bergemann moved first through the US and later Western Europe and Africa. In Manhattan she adopted a flaneur’s perspective, drifting through the concrete canyons, falling in step with the flow of people. Her images show her affinity to American masters of street photography like Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand and yet retain their own identity. The photographer turns her marvelling, roaming gaze to this Verwunderte Wirklichkeit (Astonished Reality, the title of a book by Bergemann from 1992).

With the faraway travels in the 1990s and new commissions, colour entered Bergemann’s work as a foundational element. In West Africa and on the edges of Western Europe, in Portugal, the photographer explored the feel and shape of local colours, eventually making them into a constitutive feature of her fashion photography. Strong contrasts were as crucial as finely graduated colour scales, both of which sensitively conveyed the genius loci of each place.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Biography

Sibylle Bergmann (German, 1941-2010) received a clerical training in East Berlin between 1958 and 1960. She subsequently held a white-collar job. From 1965 to 1967 she worked on the editorial staff of the monthly Das Magazin (The Magazine), where she developed an interest in photography. At this job she first met photographer Arno Fischer in 1966, with whom she lived until her death. He influenced her eventual decision to be an independent photographer, commencing her photographic training with Fischer in 1966. The apartment they shared in Berlin became an intellectual center for the alternative photography community in the GDR. From 1967 on, she worked as a freelance photographer for various magazines, such as for legendary fashion magazine Sibylle, and she became a member of the DIREKT group. In 1990 she became a founding member of Ostkreuz – Agentur der Fotografen (Agency of Photographers) in Berlin, and in 1994 a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. In the 1990s she traveled extensively around the globe to take photos for internationally renowned magazines. Bergemann’s photographs focus on quiet, atmospheric moments, not on strong symbols or grand gestures. She sidestepped the prohibited ideas by opting for fashion photography and everyday shots of her immediate surroundings.

Press release from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Marisa and Liane, Sellin, Isle of Rügen' 1981

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Marisa and Liane, Sellin, Isle of Rügen
1981
Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
33.7 x 22.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Annette and Angela, Lustgarten, Berlin' 1982

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Annette and Angela, Lustgarten, Berlin
1982
Gelatin silver print
42.3 x 28.3 cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986) (1986, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986)' / 'The Monument (Berlin, February 1986)' 1986, early print

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986) / The Monument (Berlin, February 1986)
1986, early print
Gelatin silver print
38.1 x 53.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, photographs from Bergemann’s Workplace series (various dates, see below); and at right, Bergemann’s Berlin (Frieda) (1982, above)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s Workplace series (various dates, see below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1990, early print From the series 'Workplace'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1990, early print
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
37 x 25cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Benedite Leuwarda, Hamburg' 1994, printed c. 1994

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Benedite Leuwarda, Hamburg
1994, printed c. 1994
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
38 x 25.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Telekom, Dortmund' 1990, early print From the series 'Workplace'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Telekom, Dortmund
1990, early print
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
37 x 24.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Oderberger Straße, Berlin' 1990, printed c. 1990

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Oderberger Straße, Berlin
1990, printed c. 1990
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 16.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kick

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Frieda, New York (1991, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Frieda, New York' 1991, printed c. 1991

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Frieda, New York
1991, printed c. 1991
Gelatin silver print
24.7 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Lily, Berlin (1996, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Lily, Berlin' 1996, printed c. 1996

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Lily, Berlin
1996, printed c. 1996
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 41.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Mauerpark, Berlin' 1996

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Mauerpark, Berlin
1996
Gelatin silver print
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, Bergemann’s Dakar (2001, below); at centre, Bergemann’s Raky, Dakar (2001, below); and at right, Bergemann’s Shibam, Jemen (1999, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.9 x 32.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Raky, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Raky, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.7 x 32cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Shibam, Jemen' 1999, printed c. 1999

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Shibam, Jemen
1999, printed c. 1999
C-print
44 x 32cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Seynabou, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Seynabou, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
32,1 x 43.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Cheick, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Cheick, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.8 x 31.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Mad, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Mad, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.9 x 32.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Raky, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Raky, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.7 x 32.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Kicken Berlin
Kaiserdamm 118
14057 Berlin

Tuesday – Friday 2 – 6pm & by appointment

Kicken Berlin website

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07
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander’ at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Exhibition dates: 11th May – 5th September 2022

 

Ludwig Meidner (German, 1884-1966) 'Selfportrait' 1913 (installation view)

 

Ludwig Meidner (German, 1884-1966)
Selfportrait (installation view)
1913
Oil on canvas
Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

A portent of things to come…

In Germany, the years 1919-1933 were an extraordinary period of turbulence, emancipation, depravation and creativity. After the humiliation of defeat at the end of the First World War, revolution swept Germany which led to the establishment of democracy through the Weimar Republic, which was born out of the struggle for a new social order and political system.

The flowering of German Expressionism (modern art labelled by Hitler Entartete Kunst or “Degenerate Art” in the 1920s) in painting and sculpture took place under the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and the country emerged as a leading centre of the avant-garde. This exhibition focuses on the art and culture of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a style which was a challenge to Expressionism and which advocated a return to realism and social commentary in art. “As its name suggests, it offered a return to unsentimental reality and a focus on the objective world, as opposed to the more abstract, romantic, or idealistic tendencies of Expressionism.”1

This multidisciplinary exhibition is structured into eight thematic sections corresponding to the groups and sociocultural categories created by August Sander in his seminal work Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th century), “intended, as he stated, to be “a physiognomic image of an age,” and a catalogue of “all the characteristics of the universally human.””2 In other words, Sander focused more on “archetypes” than on individuals, using his photographs to classify groups of people, to create a taxonomic ordering of society. At the time physiognomy (the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance) – today classified as a pseudoscience but at the time regarded as a genuine science – used photography to classify individuals and groups, notably used by the Nazis to classify Untermensch, that is, “non-Aryan “inferior people” notably Jews, Roma, and Slavs (Poles, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Russians). The term was also applied to Mixed race and Black people. Jewish, Polish and Romani people, along with the physically and mentally disabled, as well as homosexuals and political dissidents were to be exterminated in the Holocaust.” (Wikipedia)

“[Johannes] Molzahn, [László] Moholy-Nagy and others anticipated photography’s eventual achievement of a universally accessible and highly efficient form of communication. Germany’s immediate future did not fulfil such emancipatory predictions. By the end of the Weimar Republic, it was clear that one of photography’s most significant achievements was repackaging physiognomy, the ancient practice of identifying and classifying people according to racial and ethnic type, as a modern visual language… Declarations of photography as a new universal language and its revival of physiognomic looking went hand in hand with the racialized and metaphysical pursuits of National Socialist photography. This continuity points to uncomfortable connections between Weimar modernism and the fascist ideology of totalitarian regimes. As Eric Kurlander points out … scholars acknowledge that National-Socialist-era culture developed from – rather than broke with – Weimar aesthetic traditions.”3

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The Weimar Republic and its culture is full of contradictions. On the one hand you have changes in gender norms, such as the open appearance of homosexuality, the emergence of the emancipated female, the establishment of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and World League for Sexual Reform which carried out “the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights”, and the disclosed existence of people such as Lili Elbe, who was a Danish painter and transgender woman, and among the early recipients of sex reassignment surgery. At the time of Elbe’s last surgery, her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. “Artists are also interested in changes in gender norms, like August Sander, who photographs “La femme” in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts. With an almost sociological eye, they construct a typology of the emancipated Neue Frau (New Woman): Bubikopf (short variant of the bob cut), cigarette, wearing of a shirt or even a tie become recurring attributes in the female portraits of the time.” (Text from the exhibition)

On the other hand you have male artists whose depiction of women – and not just the emancipated female – is highly misogynistic. Women are seen as a threat to men … and in many art works from this period, women’s bodies are mutilated, decapitated and hung. These art works attest to the misogyny of many male artists,4 to the desire of men to control women, to see them as fantasies (to be disfigured or killed), or to see them as unfit for purpose.

For example, Rudolf Schlichter’s smiling / grimacing Mutilated proletarian woman (1922-1923) who is missing a hand and half her forearm whilst still holding a child (which can just be seen in an installation image below), presages against her ability to be a “good” mother; Schlichter’s Der Künstler mit zwei erhängten Frauen (The Artist with Two Hanged Women) (1924) focuses on private fantasies of sexualised murder which was a recurrent theme within this period and the public interest in the rise of suicide; Otto Dix’s group of Lustmord (Sex Murder) paintings (one of which is pictured below) “attest to the anxieties of ’emasculated’, defeated men toward newly independent women. Such depraved fantasies of control, accomplished not by gunshots but gashes, were exploited and sensationalized in the rightwing press”5; and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen’s The Dreamer (1919, below) “is an especially surreal example: a grey-faced figure sits at a table, staring out; a bloody straight razor lays by his hand, while in the corner is a woman with her throat cut; above, the ceiling phases into a beach.”6

“The post-war period saw an emancipation of women, which influenced fashion towards masculinity: short hair, shirt, tie and flat chest. you see women active in all the technical fields previously reserved for male heroes. But… these are exceptions reserved for a certain urban high society because the traditional woman remains KKK (Kirchen, Küchen, Kinders: church, kitchen, children).

It is also the time of a liberation of morals, where Jeanne Mammen draws lesbian encounters… and Christian Schad of boys lovingly entwined… But, an opposite current is born towards a biological determinism of homosexuality, artists make violent reminders of the norm and Rudolf Schlichter, Karl Hubbuch or Otto Dix, for example, multiply the representations of sexual crimes by patients: the emancipated female is seen as a threat.”7

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The interwar German interregnum was a period of incredible sensitivity and brutality at one and the same time. It was a period of disease (Spanish Flu), disfigurement (homecoming soldiers after the First World War), and economic depression and inflation (especially during the Great Depression of 1929). It was a period of the rise of the machine (machine gun, tank, aeroplane, total war). It saw the rise of aerodynamics, modernist architecture, graphic design, new typography, and photography (notably through the Bauhaus) as prolific forms of visual communication in which reading would be an obsolete skill. ‘”Stop reading! Look!” will be the motto in education,’ Molzahn wrote, ‘”Stop Reading! Look!” will be the guiding principle of daily newspapers’.”8 The period also saw the development of archetypes as socio-cultural norms, of the montage of “things” and their standardisation and rationalisation as utilities to be used (and abused).9

In Europe, the interwar period was one of the most wonderful eras of creativity the world has ever seen, the one to which I would most like to return if I had the possibility of going back in time. It was a period of transgression and experimentation, in which the new possibilities and new points of view opened up to the inquiring mind. The cabaret of life was in full flow in Europe in the interwar years: revolution and street battles, poverty and perversion, living for the moment… for tomorrow might never come, evidenced by the brutality a disillusioned society had witnessed during the First World War. The advances to social freedom and female emancipation which occurred during the period were only the scab that covered a gaping wound beneath, a wounding that would be brutally exposed anew during the repression, genocide and conflagration leading up to and during the Second World War. The depictions of life and death, of the i/rational, in the “objective” art of Neue Sachlichkeit were a portent of things to come…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,235

 

Footnotes

1/ Anonymous text. “New Objectivity,” on the German Expressionism MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

2/ Anonymous text. “August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century. A Photographic Portrait of Germany,” press release on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website 2004 [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

3/ Pepper Stetler. “Photo Lessons: Teaching Physiognomy during the Weimar Republic,” in Christopher Webster (ed.,). Photography in the Third Reich, Open Book Publishers, 2021, p. 15-28 [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

4/ “During the years following World War I, and until the consolidation of the Nazi party in 1933, paintings and drawings of butchered, semi-nude women proliferated in the art galleries and publications of the Weimar Republic.2 This phenomenon coincided with the sensationalized serial killings of women and children by men who were known as – among other names – Lustmörders. Lustmord, a term derived from criminology and psychology, was the label assigned to this sensational genre.3 The Weimar Lustmördes clearly bother modern scholars, who are faced with the challenge that Weimar critics failed to comment on how these paintings represented the disfiguring of women. The misogyny of these works, uncommented upon in their own time, has become the central focus of much modern Lustmord scholarship, which ultimately defines this treatment of the female form as implicit attacks on the so-called New Woman, a name given to middle- and upper-class women pushing against the traditional roles and restrictions imposed upon them by society.”4
Stephanie Bender. “Lady Killers and Lust-Murderers: The Lustmord Paintings of Weimar Germany,” in Athanor XXIX (Vol. 29), 2011, pp. 77-83. Florida Online Journals [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

5/ Travis Diehl. “New Objectivity,” in Frieze magazine 10 March 2016 [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

6/ Ibid.,

7/ Anonymous text. “la Nouvelle Objectivité, Allemagne années 20,” on the Almanart website Nd [Online] Cited 04/08/2022 (translated from the French by Google translate)

8/ Johannes Molzahn. ‘Nicht mehr lessen! Sehen!’ Das Kunstblatt 12: 3 (1928), p. 80, quoted in Pepper Stetler, Op cit.,

9/ “Rationality is an important aspect of literary representations of Lustmord, and the suggestion of the metropolis as a rational sphere is linked to the role of the male protagonist.14 The male figure is depicted as intellectual and cultured, and even though he commits Lustmord, it is because his rational foundation has been somehow destroyed.15 The manifestation of this violence, this monstrosity that overtakes the rational male, is rooted in the feminine and consequently lashes out at women.”
Jay Michael Layne. “Uncanny Collapse: Sexual Violence and Unsettled Rhetoric in German-Language Lustmord Representations, 1900-1933” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2008, pp. 60-671) quoted in Stephanie Bender. “Lady Killers and Lust-Murderers: The Lustmord Paintings of Weimar Germany,” in Athanor XXIX (Vol. 29), 2011, pp. 77-83. Florida Online Journals [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

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Many thankx to the Centre Pompidou for allowing me to publish some of the images in the posting. Thankx also to Aubrey Perry for the use of most of the installation photographs of the exhibition (except the five noted below)

 

0 – Introduction
1 – Prologue

2 – Standardisation

What is standardisation? The singularities are erased, in favour of recourse to models, standardised types, simple forms reproducible in series. Here we see paintings like those of George Grosz, with his faceless figures, schematic human beings with neutral expressions set in empty towns. This corresponds, in architecture, to the launch in Germany of major programs of housing estates, as in Frankfurt, for which the habitat is designed from standardized models. Here we see engravings made by Gernd Arntz, where people are schematized and geometricized. The silhouettes appear in a simple and subtle game of black and white: the stripes of a prisoner play with the grid, the attitudes of the workers are repeated to the rhythm of the wheels of the machine.

[Anglea Lampe, curator of the exhibition]: The attention of the artists is focused on the social belonging of the people. The sociological notion becomes important, especially with the group which was created in Cologne with the artists Gerd Arntz, Heinrich Hoerle, Franz W. Seiwert, who form the Cologne Progressives group with whom  August Sander exhibits. Arntz produced the series of engravings Häuser der Zeit (12 Houses of the Time), where he represents social classes according to a set of codes. It’s a very political speech of the time. Arntz continues to develop this approach with the philosopher and economist Otto Neurath, who works in Vienna: he develops a universal visual language, called isotype. Isotype is the acronym for “international system of typographic picture education”, in other words it is the precursor of the pictogram or emoticons.

In the 1920s, there was the desire, this dream to create universal languages. These pictograms, which are associated with a colour code, make up, for example, a typology of professions, social categories or elements of daily life, for a democratization of knowledge. Economic and societal problems could be visualised and broadcast thanks to this new visual system… it really is a system of infographics before the letter.

 

3 – Visages de ce temps (Face of our time)

[Florian Ebner, curator of the “August Sander” section]: This two-part exhibition explores the dialogue between August Sander and the Progressive artists of Cologne. We see on the wall the portraits that Sander dedicated to artists and next to it, paintings by artists like Heinrich Hoerle, Franz Seiwert and Anton Räderscheidt. We see how much Sander is inspired by their art and it is a magical moment.

We see on a large table the exchanges between Sander and the Progressives of Cologne: the letters, but also the reproductions he made of their paintings. And at that moment, there is an opening in the picture rail which gives the perspective on the Sander corridor and we see the first group, Les Paysans (Farmers). We see these two forces that run through his work, both rooted in the land – he comes from Westerwald – and revolutionary energy. These are twelve sources of energy that make part of the productive tensions that marked his work.

“By seeing, observing and thinking, with the aid of the photo apparatus and adding a date indication, we can fix universal history and, thanks to the expressive possibilities of photography as a universal language, influence all of humanity.” ~ August Sander

[Florian Ebner]: To return to photography as a universal language, the 1920s in Germany are marked by discussions on the different types of society. It is a society that has asked many questions about itself.

“The fundamental idea of ​​my photographic work People of the Twentieth Century, which I began in 1910 and which contains about five to six hundred photos, a selection of which was published in 1929 under the Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), is nothing but a profession of faith in photography as a universal language and the attempt to paint a physiognomic portrait of the German man, based on the optical-chemical process of the photography, therefore on the pure shaping of light.” ~ August Sander

[Florian Ebner]: I think Sander’s portraiture embodies something specific in photography: he invites people to stage themselves in front of his camera, to take a posture for several seconds. It is therefore a “self-portrait assisted”, according to photography historian Olivier Lugon, and at the same time he assigns these people a place in his theory of society.

The idea of ​​editing society is exactly that: then in his photographic archives, he assigns models and their images a place in these seven groups and 45 portfolios. Face of our time, his book, allows people to understand in a subtle and fine way the class differences of the Weimar Republic.

 

4 – Montage

Photomontage appeared during the war among Dada artists. A few years later, this technique is taken up in painting, photography, cinema, literature, to be put at the service of the analysis of society. The mix of patterns or information, dissociated in reality, allows artists to offer a form of visual synthesis of the time.

 

5 – Les Choses (Things)

The scrutinising gaze of New Objectivity artists brings them take objects as models. Due to its supposedly objective technique, photography seems adapted to the precise rendering of things in their materiality. A dialogue is established between the two arts, painting and photography.

[Angela Lampe]: The paintings are animated by this tension between this inert plant and this bare and geometric environment which gives the false appearance of a bourgeois interior but which is completely artificial and fictitious. Architecture, geometric, abstract, these are the attributes that fascinate artists.

[Sophie Goetzmann]: No photo is objective from the moment there is a framing, a choice of motif, a choice of object photographed, we are in the order of choice. There is a whole practice of plant staging, sometimes point-based original views, close-ups, with attention to rendering detail and matter of these plants. These plants are photographed truly as objects. We are not interested in plants as living beings; they have no vividness, whether in paintings or photographs, they are very rigid, they are placed in neutral and empty environments. They are still life very dead!

 

6 – Persona froide (Cold persona)

The four murderous years of the war that ended in defeat cause general disappointment. Humiliation breeds a culture of shame. In the 1920s appears what the university specialist in culture German Helmut Lethen calls the “cold persona”.

[Sophie Goetzmann]: Helmut Lethen explains that guilt and shame are two different things. Guilt is having made a mistake and racking your brain, torturing yourself with this mistake to try to fix it; so the guilt, according to him, has to do with interiority.

Shame is having made a mistake but, instead of going into introspection, it’s about thinking outward, to think, “What are people going to think of me? How do I save face with others, how do I erase this shame?”. This is what he calls the culture of shame, people are dominated by a shame of ideas that they never had before the First World War, in particular because everyone had gone merrily to war. The war was a real moment of patriotism in Germany as in France, and all these people found themselves face to face with the reality of war: mutilation, dead, traumatised, bereaved families. At the end of the First World War there is a kind of shame that takes hold people compared to their ideas of four years ago.

How is it transcribed in portraits and in attitudes in general? Through a new way of being, of playing the detached person, of protecting oneself using a mask of indifference. In portraits, people don’t smile, do not display any particular expression, are detached on a neutral background. At the same time, portraits say something about people. In place to express their interiority, they show their position in the social order or their occupation. New Objectivity artists put people in boxes and represent people according to their profession, their place of work.

The portraits say something in general, which is to hide one’s feelings. In this section, there is a portrait of a woman putting on makeup. The make-up is a symbol of this new social attitude which is to put a layer of make-up on oneself so as not to reveal one’s torment, one’s feelings to others, it becomes something embarrassing to do that. Another example is the painter Otto Dix who represents the journalist Sylvia von Harden without complacency, as a typical emancipated intellectual of the Weimar Republic. She has short hair, wears a monocle, smokes and drinks a glass of alcohol. His sentimental torments are reflected in the choice of attributes: her bottom is undone, her pose is constrained, she is uncomfortable in a feminized pink universe. Its interior is exposed.

[Florian Ebner] There is a second meeting point where the two paths intersect. This is Chapter 6: The Cold Persona for the New Objectivity Exposition and  group 3 of Sander dedicated to the woman. For women, he thinks about five portfolios that attempt to describe the role of women in society. The first three describe the woman passively; it is always someone else who defines the woman: The Woman and the Child, The Woman and the Man, The Family. It’s still a quite conservative design about society and the role of women. The last two portfolios, The Elegant Woman, The Intellectual Woman underline the new role and type of woman, the Neue Frau, the new woman. We can see together, the very beautiful portrait painted by Otto Dix of the journalist Sylvia von Harden and that of a German radio secretary photographed by Sander: the game of gestures, the hand, the cigarette, the clothes, they could be sisters, twins.

It is a conception of the portrait that no longer speaks of the interiority of a person but how to describe a person by external attributes, by gesture, accessories, the habitus. At this point, the dialogue between the painted portraits and the photographs of August Sander is very rich.

 

7 – Rationalité (Rationality)

After the war, it was the economic crisis in Germany, which experienced hyperinflation. In 1924, the Dawes Plan aimed to help Germany reconnect with the growth, thanks to the injection of American capital. It then develops in Germans a fascination for America which has invested generously. The model society of the United States is methodical, harmonious, innovative because it is governed by technology. It is in this context that rationalisation infuses culture in Germany, from how to organise interiors to popular entertainment, through graphic design.

[Angela Lampe]: The rationalisation of work developed by Taylor is imported into German companies, leading to rapid industrialisation and a mechanisation of tasks. The principle of rationalisation soon becomes a new norm that structures social and cultural life itself. For example, the graphic designer Paul Renner develops the Futura font, based on geometric shapes elementary. This new standard of rationality also applies to the development interior. Viennese architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, who works in Frankfurt, designs a modern and functional kitchen.

 

8 – Utilité

New musical styles imported from America appear in Germany in the 1920s and became very popular. especially jazz and dance music like foxtrot. Composers Ernst Krenek, Kurt Wild or Paul Hindemith drew inspiration from it to create a new musical genre, the Zeitoper, in French: topical opera. The plots take place in the contemporary world, the sets incorporate modern machines like trains, cars, telephones. The opera then addresses a wide audience and draws its references from popular culture.

[Angela Lampe]: There is a great democratisation of this, let’s say, elitist medium, which was the opera. An important figure in the theatre of the 1920s was Bertolt Brecht. At the antipodes of the lyrical outpourings of expressionism it was he, Bertolt Brecht, with the director Erwin Piscator, who developed new forms of theatre, what is called epic theatre, episches theater. In fiction, they introduce scenic devices into their plays that allow the viewer to analyse the plot in order to participate in its awakening Politics. They work from the effects of distancing. The introduction, for example, of the narrator or the break in the unity of the action are all elements generating a distance that encourages reflection. The goal is really to make the spectator.

There are other moments, which can be called moments of neo-objectivity, so Neue Sachlichkeit, in Brecht. It is the theme of sport, he is keen on sport. Moreover, he compares the theatre to sporting events, especially boxing, which really becomes a very important reference for his pieces. There is also his dry and very sober style, which distinguishes it as a representative of this New Objectivity, especially in his poetry.

It is prose that takes precedence over poetry. It’s really another form of literature, which is with an approach, let’s say, rather sociological than poetic. Brecht shares with the New Objectivity also the concern for a democratisation of art. He was interested in the possibilities offered by mass broadcasting devices. For example, he works with recorded poems and radio plays, so broadcast on the radio which spread very quickly in German homes during that time. It’s really a novelty of the mass media, as they say today, which makes it possible to disseminate and democratise culture.

 

9 – Transgressions

[Sophie Goetzmann]: We have two forms of transgression which are shown in these rooms. The transgression of gender norms, first: the idea of gender norms that will shift, especially in expression, in clothes, for example, that we are going to choose, and in particular the women of that time.

So, often, the women of the upper middle class, who live in the big cities, will resort to men’s fashion, dress boyishly, wear short hair, a flat torso, ties, to modify the feminine fashion of the time. So transgression of gender norms and transgression of heterosexuality because, in the Berlin of the 1920s, there was a whole
very important homosexual subculture, in particular through clubs, meeting places, restaurants, bars.

[Angela Lampe]: The painter and designer Jeanne Mammen creates watercolours featuring the daily life of lesbian meeting places, depicting the relationships between women with a certain tenderness, just like Christian Schad, who draws two young boys lovingly embraced. Otto Dix, in his portraits, depicts on the other hand its models according to a more heteronormative vision. The dancer Anita Berber, an openly bisexual star with multiple escapades, is caricatured as a personification of sin. All in red, she is presented as a figure really out of hell. She is truly the embodiment of Babylon, sinful.

[Sophie Goetzmann]: It is these two forms of transgression that are shown in the first two rooms. The last room in the section shows what is rather the opposite of a transgression, i.e. a reminder of the norm and the attitude of most male artists in the face of these transgressions, which is an attitude of anguish, which is an attitude of fear of seeing lesbian women who openly display their sexuality, to see gender norms that are blurred.

Doesn’t that open the door to a mix, too, of gender roles, a take on the power of women over men? So many of these men will multiply the images of women bruised, murdered, butchered, which also echoes the various facts of the time, where there is a whole phenomenon with serial killers that make the headlines, photographs of murders that are broadcast in the press. These are images that draw a lot of inspiration from this visual culture, almost, murder at that time. These are works that translate a certain anguish of these artists in the face of all these transgressions of the standards of gender and these transgressions of heterosexuality.

The shame felt by the men following the defeat of Germany after the First World War, is expressed through representations of violence against women because, too, women progressed on the social ladder during the First World War. Most of the time, positions that have been left vacant by men who went to the front were taken by women.

 

10 – Regard vers le bas (Look back)

In this last section, we are interested in artists who have been excluded, the losers from the appearance of Taylorism, who are obviously the workers who are
exploited and which become an interchangeable mass and simple cogs in enormous machinery that overtakes them. But also, all the people who live in a form of marginality, whether war-disabled, or the unemployed, or people who live on the fringes of cities and who do not go to shows, operas or Zeitoper, or Brecht’s shows which are visible in city centres, but who are completely excluded from all this entertainment and who are doomed to a form of marginality in their life, in their place of living, and who are completely crushed by the capitalist economic machinery.

[Angela Lampe]: Far from the bustling boulevards and their neon signs, the painters like Hans Baluschek and Hans Grundig paint those excluded from urban entertainment, like poor families moving through these terrains, waves relegated to the fringes of cities. During these years, there was really a gap between what we call the rich and poor, between underprivileged backgrounds and bourgeois backgrounds, even industrialised capitals. This gap was widening during these years.

[Florian Ebner]: So Sander is going to dedicate portfolio 11 to this group, La grande ville, where we also see the youth of the big city, the young high school girl, the young high school student, dressed in a very chic way, but we also see the uprooted from society, we also see the invalids of the First World War, we see the left-behinds of the system capitalist.

There is a portfolio called The People Who Came to My Door, which is as a sort of mise-en-abyme of his method. That is to say, he invites people who came to ask for money (beggars, hawkers, unemployed), to have their photograph taken in the frame of their door, in front of the entrance wall. It is a true typology of these people. And there is a very beautiful sentence, a very nice idea, where he asks himself: “Can you imagine taking in all the employment offices in Germany, at the same time, a photograph. What strong image would that give of poverty?”

“Here, the photo speaks a very cultured language that can be heard by everybody; it is another language, but just as expressive, as photography would speak if cameras were installed in the 365 existing unemployment offices today on the sole territory of the German Reich and if we made them work simultaneously. If we photographed the people in these offices, then we gathered the results thus obtained and we added the date, 1931, the tragedy of this photographic language would certainly be understandable, without further comment, by all men today and in times to come.” ~ August Sander

11 – Epilogue

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Text from the exhibition podcast transcription on the Centre Pompidou website translated from the French by Google translate

 

This exhibition on the art and culture of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) in Germany is the first overview presented in France of this artistic trend. Apart from painting and photography, the project brings together architecture, design, film, theatre, literature and music.

People of the 20th century, the masterwork by photographer August Sander, establishes the motif of a cross-section of a society, an “exhibition in the exhibition”, as a structural principle, the two interlinked perspectives opening up a large panorama of German art in the late 1920s.

This multidisciplinary exhibition is structured into eight thematic sections corresponding to the groups and sociocultural categories created by August Sander.

A review of German history in the context of contemporary Europe with populist movements and divergent societies in the throes of the digital revolution invites us to observe the political resonances and media analogies between yesterday’s situations and those of today.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation views of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at right in the bottom image, works by Rudolf Schlichter: from left to right, Arbeiter mit Mütze (Worker with hat), 1926; Verstümmelte Proletarierfrau (Mutilated proletarian woman), 1922-1923; and  Schwachsinnige II (Imbeciles II), 1923-1924
Photos: Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

 

Les choses / Things

The artists of the New Objectivity were particularly interested in the genre of still life and represented objects with great clarity, their gaze being both scrutinising and cutting. Because of its supposed objectivity, photography seems particularly suited to the precise rendering of things in their materiality. Inspired by this hyperrealistic fidelity, the painters appropriated the visual language of photography. Rubber cacti and fig trees were very popular in 1920s Germany, where they were sought after for their exoticism. Artists are passionate about these plants then perceived as the plant equivalent of crystalline stone: architectural, geometric, abstract. Xaver Fuhr and Alexander Kanoldt paint figs with great meticulousness, in uncluttered compositions that bring out their clear structure. Georg Scholz values ​​the stiffness of the cactus, in resonance with the rigid pictorial style of the New Objectivity.

This reified nature is part of a broader fascination with the world of objects. Photographers and painters are also interested in glass objects, light bulbs and tableware, often depicted in plunging or unusual perspectives.

 

Persona froide / Cold persona

The four murderous years of the war ended in defeat engendered a form of general disillusion in Germany. According to literary historian Helmut Lethen, the humiliation inflicted by the victors gave rise to a culture of shame, characterised by widespread embarrassment about pre-war utopias. If guilt implies an introspective approach and supposes questioning oneself about one’s wrongs, shame is external and requires above all to preserve one’s image with others. In the 1920s, what Lethen called the “cold persona” appeared, a new social type that consisted of seeking to escape feelings of humiliation by displaying a mask of coldness and indifference.

This new behaviour profoundly modifies the practice of portraiture. Previously turned towards the interiority and the psychological expression of the model, it now focuses on the external signs of individuals. The artists of the New Objectivity thus represent less personalities than social types, defined by their profession. Often displayed in the very title of the work (businessman, textile merchant, doctor, etc.), it is also identifiable through attributes that allow it to be recognised.

In Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th century), August Sander devotes a group to “Socio-professional categories”, photographing less individual characters than occupations.

Like Julius Bissier, who represents himself forging his own image without emotion or affect (see below), the portraits appear cold, emptied of all feeling, in resonance with their often neutral and deserted backgrounds. The subjects appear alone and wear a detached expression, an absent, even empty gaze. Like the young girl represented by Lotte Laserstein, they seem to seek to disguise their feelings behind an impenetrable appearance.

Artists are also interested in changes in gender norms, like August Sander, who photographs “La femme” in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts. With an almost sociological eye, they construct a typology of the emancipated Neue Frau (New Woman): Bubikopf (short variant of the bob cut), cigarette, wearing of a shirt or even a tie become recurring attributes in the female portraits of the time.

 

Rationalité / Rationality

The economic crisis and spectacular post-war inflation were followed by a period of stabilisation and relative growth, favoured in particular by the Dawes Plan and the injection of American capital in 1924. A fascination for America and its model of society seen as methodical and harmonious, governed by technique, was born in Germany.

The rationalisation of work developed by Taylor is imported into German companies, leading to rapid industrialisation and the mechanisation of tasks. The aestheticisation of machines is found in the artists of the New Objectivity, who praise their beauty. Carl Grossberg’s paintings show sparkling clean industrial sites in clean, meticulously detailed compositions. The cult of technology continued with the appearance of the radio, a new domestic machine perceived by the painter Max Radler or the playwright Bertolt Brecht as a potential tool for emancipation.

The principle of rationalisation soon becomes a new norm that structures social and cultural life. The interior layout of the small-sized accommodation is studied by the architects and designers to optimise the space. Along the same lines, Marcel Breuer and Franz Schuster developed sleek, space-saving furniture that freed up as much space as possible. The architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky has designed a modern and functional kitchen in Frankfurt, organised as a workspace to limit the movements of the housewife. This concern to improve the daily life of women is part of a general desire for emancipation: the 1920s are those of the appearance of a financially independent Neue Frau (New Woman), who leaves her traditional role to confront to modern technology or to sports previously reserved for men.

 

Transgressions

In Germany, traditional gender roles were redefined after the First World War. After occupying vacant positions during the conflict, women are now established in the labor market, and obtain the right to vote in 1918. This new position leads them to adopt an androgynous appearance by appropriating the codes of masculinity: short hair, shirt, tie and flat chest, as shown in Selbstbildnis als Malerin (Self-Portrait as a Painter) (1935, below) by Kate Diehn-Bitt (1900-1978), oil on plywood.

In Berlin, in the famous Eldorado cabaret, transvestite artists push this confusion of genres even further. An important homosexual subculture develops in these clubs tolerated by the police. The painter and designer Jeanne Mammen creates watercolours that capture the daily life of lesbian meeting places, depicting the relationships between women with a certain tenderness.

The portraits of Otto Dix, on the other hand, are more imbued with the homophobic stereotypes of the time. The dancer Anita Berber, openly bisexual star with multiple escapades, is caricatured as a personification of sin. Jeweller Karl Krall appears with disproportionately scooped and wide hips, echoing physiologist Eugen Steinach’s ideas about “feminized men”.

Transgressions of heterosexuality and decompartmentalisation of genres generate anxiety in some male artists which is reflected in their works by a violent reminder of the norm. Rudolf Schlichter, Karl Hubbuch or Otto Dix multiply the representations of Lustmörder, sexual crimes showing women violently murdered by knife or hanging.

 

Regard vers le bas / Look down

The fascination for industry and machines clashes with the harsh reality of the daily life of the most modest populations. Driven by a desire to represent the reverse side of triumphant capitalism, certain artists of the New Objectivity turn their gaze towards those invisible things that technical progress excludes or condemns. Although pretending to a representation objective of the social world, they refuse political neutrality, most of them being committed to the Communist Party.

Karl Völker and Oskar Nerlinger create portraits of anonymous crowds of workers in the oppressive environment of industrial architecture: de-individuated, they are no more than simple cogs in the capitalist economic machine. Using a detached style, the artists represent the precarious populations living on the edge of large modern urban centres, showcases of German capitalism. Far from the bustling boulevards and their neon signs, Hans Baluschek and Hans Grundig paint those excluded from urban entertainment, poor families living in vacant lots on the outskirts of cities.

 

Max Radler (1904-1971) 'Der Radiohörer' (The Radio Listener) 1930

 

Max Radler (1904-1971)
Der Radiohörer (The Radio Listener)
1930
Oil on canvas

 

Wilhelm Heise (German, 1892–1965) 'Verblühender Frühling. Selbstbildnis als Radiobastler' (Faded Spring. Self-portrait as a radio amateur) 1926

 

Wilhelm Heise (German, 1892–1965)
Verblühender Frühling. Selbstbildnis als Radiobastler (Faded Spring. Self-portrait as a radio amateur)
1926
Oil on canvas

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971) 'Mechanischer Kopf (Der Geist Unserer Zeit)' The Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time) 1919

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Mechanischer Kopf (Der Geist Unserer Zeit) The Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time)
1919
Assemblage
Wooden hairdresser’s puppet and various objects attached to it: telescopic beaker, a leather case, pipe stem, white cardboard bearing the number 22, a piece of a seamstress’ tape measure, a double decimeter, a watch cog, a roll of character d printing
32.5 x 21 x 20cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1974

 

 

“I wanted to unveil the spirit of our time, the spirit of everyone in its rudimentary state.”

Reducing the individual to a series of figures, this head criticises a harmful mechanisation revealed by the Great War. It also constitutes the announcement of a new, rational and impersonal man in tune with modern society. Anti-bourgeois and corrosive, does Raoul Hausmann reject the present or does he project himself into the future?

 

The most famous work by Hausmann, Mechanischer Kopf (Der Geist Unserer Zeit), “The Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time)”, c. 1920, is the only surviving assemblage that Hausmann produced around 1919-1920. Constructed from a hairdresser’s wig-making dummy, the piece has various measuring devices attached including a ruler, a pocket watch mechanism, a typewriter, some camera segments and a crocodile wallet.

Der Geist Unserer Zeit – Mechanischer Kopf specifically evokes the philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). For Hegel… everything is mind. Among Hegel’s disciples and critics was Karl Marx. Hausmann’s sculpture might be seen as an aggressively Marxist reversal of Hegel: this is a head whose “thoughts” are materially determined by objects literally fixed to it. However, there are deeper targets in western culture that give this modern masterpiece its force. Hausmann turns inside out the notion of the head as seat of reason, an assumption that lies behind the European fascination with the portrait. He reveals a head that is penetrated and governed by brute external forces.”

Jonathan Jones. “The Spirit of Our Time – Mechanical Head, Raoul Hausmann (1919),” on The Guardian website Saturday 27th September 2003 quoted in “Raoul Hausmann,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/08/2022

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940) 'Jacquard-Weberei' (Jacquard weaving workshop) 1934

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940)
Jacquard-Weberei (Jacquard weaving workshop)
1934
Oil on wood

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935) 'Sommernacht' (Summer Evening) 1929 (installation view)

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935)
Sommernacht (Summer Evening) (installation view)
1929
Oil on canvas
120 x 151cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935) 'Sommernacht' (Summer Evening) 1929

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935)
Sommernacht (Summer Evening)
1929
Oil on canvas
120 x 151cm

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935)

Hans Baluschek (9 May 1870 – 28 September 1935) was a German painter, graphic artist and writer.

Baluschek was a prominent representative of German Critical Realism, and as such he sought to portray the life of the common people with vivid frankness. His paintings centred on the working class of Berlin. He belonged to the Berlin Secession movement, a group of artists interested in modern developments in art. Yet during his lifetime he was most widely known for his fanciful illustrations of the popular children’s book Little Peter’s Journey to the Moon (German title: Peterchens Mondfahrt).

Hans Baluschek, after 1920, was an active member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which at the time still professed a Marxist view of history.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at left, Karl Hubbuch’s Twice Hilde II and Twice Hilde (c. 1929, below); and at right, Otto Dix’s An die Schönheit (Selbstbildnis) (To the beauty (Selfportrait)) (1922, below).
Photo: Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979) 'Zweimal Hilde II' (Twice Hilde II) c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979)
Zweimal Hilde II (Twice Hilde II) (installation view)
c. 1929
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza, Madrid
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979) 'Zweimal Hilde' (Twice Hilde) c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979)
Zweimal Hilde (Twice Hilde) (installation view)
c. 1929
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza, Madrid
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Karl Hubbuch, who was originally from Karlsruhe, often travelled to Berlin. It was there that he met George Grosz and Rudolf Schlichter, with whom he joined the radical Novembergruppe and Rote Gruppe, and later the Neue Sachlichkeit. Despite his radical ideological stance, the critical accent of his painting was tempered by the more moderate and classical style characteristic of the Karlsruhe artists.

Twice Hilde II is a double image of Hubbuch’s wife, whom he painted on numerous occasions. Hilde Isai (1905-1971), one of his drawing from life students at the Karlsruhe academy, whom he married in 1928, was an energetic and independent woman who eventually left her husband to devote herself to her passion for photography at the Dessau Bauhaus. The composition, in the manner of a Doppelgänger, was initially designed as a quadruple portrait which the artist later cut into two after the central part was damaged by a leak. The two pieces, which were exhibited together on a few occasions, and the preparatory drawings provide a progressive sequence of Hilde’s personality. Hubbuch, who was very fond of multiple portraits, instead of attempting to capture Hilde’s personality in a single figure, breaks it down into numerous facets, from the image on the left – which shows her seated with crossed legs on a modern tube chair designed by Marcel Breuer in a serious, prim pose wearing glasses that give her an intellectual air – to the provocative, coquettish woman in her underclothes on the far right of the Munich double portrait. Like most of the members of the German New Objectivity movement, Hubbuch was attracted by everyday scenes and by rendering various objects and textures in minute detail.

Although the painting has often been dated to 1923, in the catalogue of the retrospective exhibition of the painter’s work in 1981, the first serious critical study of his oeuvre, Wolfgang Hartmann ascribed it to 1929 on the grounds of particular stylistic features and the fact that Hubbuch did not meet Hilde until 1926.

Paloma Alarcó. “Karl Hubbuch,” on the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza website Nd [Online] Cited 02/08/2022

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979) 'Zweimal Hilde II' (Twice Hilde II) c. 1929

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979)
Zweimal Hilde II (Twice Hilde II)
c. 1929
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza, Madrid

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'An die Schönheit (Selbstbildnis)' (To the beauty (Selfportrait)) 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
An die Schönheit (Selbstbildnis) (To the beauty (Selfportrait))
1922
Oil on canvas
139.5 x 120.5cm
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Wuppertal
© Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970) 'The Dreamer II' 1919 (installation view)

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)
The Dreamer II (installation view)
1919
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (1894-1970) spent his youth in Aachen and studied sculpture at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1913-14, where he met Carlo Mense. Rhenish Expressionism, with its leanings towards Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism, exerted a formative influence on Davringhausen’s palette and composition.

In the years that followed, Davringhausen travelled constantly and met Georg Schrimpf at the Monte Verità artists’ colony near Ascona. Several portraits were done of him in a realistically overpainted manner which show the artist against a coloured Futurist background. The loss of an eye in his childhood ensured that Davringhausen was spared military service when the first world war broke out. Heinrich Maria Davringhausen returned to Germany, moved to Munich in 1918 and joined the group of Düsseldorf artists known as Das junge Rheinland.

Under the influence of the Cologne “progressives”, Davringhausen now painted primarily abstract pictures with colour surfaces, some of them conceived in series. Between 1924 and 1925 the artist lived in Toledo, Spain, but chose to settle in Cologne in 1928, where he founded “Gruppe 32” with Anton Räderscheidt et al.

After he married Lore Auerbach, the daughter of a Jewish industrialist, Davringhausen emigrated with his wife to Cala Ratjada on Mallorca in 1933. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 compelled Davringhausen to flee to Ascona via Marseilles and Paris. A year later his work was shown in the exhibition of Degenerate Art. In 1939 Davringhausen was expelled from Switzerland and moved with his family to Haut-de-Cagnes near Nice. After managing to escape from Les Milles, where he was interned in 1939-1940, Davringhausen hid with his wife in Auvergne, returning to Haut-de-Cagnes after the war.

Most of Davringhausen’s work was lost during the war due to his being outlawed by the National Socialists and being continually on the run. In the postwar years Davringhausen exhibited his work, which reveals a close affinity with “Neue Sachlichkeit”, at many galleries across the world.

By the close of the 1950s art history was beginning to take notice of the New Objectivist style. As a result, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen’s early work was shown at numerous exhibitions and was included in publications dealing with the “Neue Sachlichkeit” movement. The artist’s comprehensive body of late work is primarily geometric and abstract yet it did not win much recognition. Heinrich Maria Davringhausen died in Nice on 13 December 1970.

Kraftgenie. “Heinrich Maria Davringhausen,” on the Weimar website, Tuesday, June 8, 2010 [Online] Cited 02/08/2022

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970) 'The Dreamer' 1919

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)
The Dreamer
1919

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982) 'Die Melancholische' (The Melancholy) 1931 (installation view)

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982)
Die Melancholische (The Melancholy) (installation view)
1931
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Christian Schad (21 August 1894 – 25 February 1982) was a German painter and photographer. He was associated with the Dada and the New Objectivity movements. Considered as a group, Schad’s portraits form an extraordinary record of life in Vienna and Berlin in the years following World War I.

 

 

The four devastating years of World War I, which ended in defeat for Germany, led to a general sense of disillusionment among the people. Abandoning the visionary, spiritual and psychological aesthetics of expressionism, the disabused artists turned to reality. In painting, this paradigm shift was reflected in the emergence of a more neutral and less expressive figurative style that tended towards greater objectivity.

The German empire was succeeded by a new political regime, the Weimar Republic, which promoted the development of a new democratic culture focused on the masses. The exaltation of the individual was replaced by an ideal of standardisation: singularities were erased in favour of models, standardised types and simple forms reproduced in series. In urban development, the unprecedented shortage of housing at the end of World War I led to the construction of large housing blocks with simple and identical forms, designed according to a principal of rationalisation. The notion of utility which was linked to the new objectivity movement, emerged in theatre, music and literature. This new concept promoted the creation of works intended for a wide audience, strongly anchored in their time and designed to be immediately understandable.

Art also expressed the social upheavals under the new German democracy. After World War I, women joined the labour market and obtained the right to vote in 1918; this very definition of traditional gender roles was a subject explored by painters and photographers. From 1924 onwards, the injection of American Capital ushered in a period of relative economic stabilisation, but many Germans remained excluded from the benefits of growth. Artists who are members of the communist party depicted labourers, the unemployed and beggars, driven by a desire to represent the underside of triumphant capitalism.

 

 

August Sander. 'Malerehepaar' (Couple of painters) (Martha and Otto Dix)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Malerehepaar (Couple of painters) (Martha et Otto Dix)
1925-1926
Modern gelatin silver print
20.6 x 24.3 cm
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne/ Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Painter (Marta Hegemann)' c. 1925

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Painter (Marta Hegemann)
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940) 'Self portrait' 1928

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940)
Self portrait
1928
Oil on panel
70.1 x 60cm

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Hausierer' (Peddler) 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Hausierer (Peddler)
1930
Gelatin silver print
17.5 x 11.8cm (6.9 x 4.6 in)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Bailiff' c. 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Bailiff
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) '[Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand]' 1920

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
[Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand]
1920
Gelatin silver print
23.0 x 14.7cm (9 1/16 x 5 13/16 in)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Frau eines Architekten (Dora Lüttgen)' (Architect's Wife (Dora Lüttgen)) 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Frau eines Architekten (Dora Lüttgen) (Architect’s Wife (Dora Lüttgen))
1926
Gelatin silver print
25.8 × 18.7cm

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt)' Red-haired woman (female portrait) 1931 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt) (Red-haired woman (female portrait))
1931
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt)' Red-haired woman (female portrait) 1931 

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt) Red-haired woman (female portrait)
1931

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at centre left, Rudolf Schlichter’s Margot (1924, below); and at second right, Otto Dix’s Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) (1926, below)
Photo: Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Margot' 1924

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Margot
1924
© Städel Museum

 

 

The prostitute Margot was portrayed several times by Rudolf Schlichter around 1924. Margot, portrayed in the pose of baroque portraits of rulers with a challenging look and self-confident right arm on her hips, bob haircut and cigarette, presents the type of the new woman. She buys her emancipation with the sale and – her swollen left eyelid indicates it – with the maltreatment of her body. The background shows a dreary tenement barracks, their “kingdom” is the street.

Text from the Städel Museum website

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)

Rudolf Schlichter (or Rudolph Schlichter) (December 6, 1890 – May 3, 1955) was a German painter and one of the most important representatives of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement.

Schlichter was born in Calw, Württemberg. After an apprenticeship as an enamel painter at a Pforzheim factory he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Stuttgart. He subsequently studied under Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Trübner at the Academy in Karlsruhe. Called for military service in World War I, he carried out a hunger strike to secure early release, and in 1919 he moved to Berlin where he joined the Communist Party of Germany and the “November” group. He took part in a Dada fair in 1920 and also worked as an illustrator for several periodicals.

A major work from this period is his Dada Roof Studio, a watercolour showing an assortment of figures on an urban rooftop. Around a table sit a woman and two men in top hats. One of the men has a prosthetic hand and the other, also missing a hand, appears on closer scrutiny to be mannequin. Two other figures in gas masks may also be mannequins. A child holds a pail and a woman wearing high button shoes (for which Schlichter displayed a marked fetish) stands on a pedestal, gesturing inexplicably.

In 1925 Schlichter participated in the “Neue Sachlichkeit” exhibit at the Mannheim Kunsthalle. His work from this period is realistic, a good example being the Portrait of Margot (1924, above) now in the Berlin Märkisches Museum. It depicts a prostitute who often modelled for Schlichter, standing on a deserted street and holding a cigarette.

When Adolf Hitler took power, bringing to an end the Weimar period, his activities were greatly curtailed. In 1935 he returned to Stuttgart, and four years later to Munich. In 1937 his works were seized as degenerate art, and in 1939 the Nazi authorities banned him from exhibiting. His studio was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1942.

At the war’s end, Schlichter resumed exhibiting works. His works from this period were surrealistic in character. He died in Munich in 1955.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Damenkneipe' (Ladies' Bistro) c. 1925

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Damenkneipe (Ladies’ Bistro)
c. 1925
Watercolour, India ink and pencil on paper

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden' (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) 1926 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) (installation view)
1926
Oil and tempera on wood
121 x 89cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1961
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden' (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) 1926

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden)
1926
Oil and tempera on wood
121 x 89cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1961
© Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Audrey Laurans – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Who is this woman who dares to appear in public alone, cigarette in hand, at a table of the Romanische Café, a haunt of the Berlin art worlds?

Sylvia von Harden was a journalist in Berlin in the 1920s. Her nonchalant stance is a statement of her emancipated intellectual role. Otto Dix undermines her arrogance with the detail of a loose stocking and her rather awkward pose. Her red-check dress contrast with the pink environment, typically Art Nouveau. The cold, satirical realism typifies the New Objectivity movement to which the painter belonged. Inspired by early 16th-century German masters (Cranach, Holbein), he embraced the tempera on wood panel technique as well as the choice to exhibit the ugliness.

 

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Sekretärin beim Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Köln (Secretary at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne)
1931
Gelatin silver print
28.6 x 20.5cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1979
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Guy Carrard – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Der Maler Anton Räderscheidt' (Painter Anton Räderscheidt) 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Maler Anton Räderscheidt (Painter Anton Räderscheidt)
1926
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1979
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Adam Rzepka – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen' (Young man with yellow gloves) 1921

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen (Young man with yellow gloves)
1921
Oil on panel
27.4 x 18.6cm

 

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)

Anton Räderscheidt (October 11, 1892 – March 8, 1970) was a German painter who was a leading figure of the New Objectivity.

Räderscheidt was born in Cologne. His father was a schoolmaster who also wrote poetry. From 1910 to 1914, Räderscheidt studied at the Academy of Düsseldorf. He was severely wounded in the First World War, during which he fought at Verdun. After the war he returned to Cologne, where in 1919 he cofounded the artists’ group Stupid with other members of the local constructivist and Dada scene. The group was short-lived, as Räderscheidt was by 1920 abandoning constructivism for a magic realist style. In 1925 he participated in the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) exhibition at the Mannheim Kunsthalle.

Many of the works Räderscheidt produced in the 1920s depict a stiffly posed, isolated couple that usually bear the features of Räderscheidt and his wife, the painter Marta Hegemann. The influence of metaphysical art is apparent in the way the mannequin-like figures stand detached from their environment and from each other. A pervasive theme is the incompatibility of the sexes, according to the art historian Dennis Crockett. Few of Räderscheidt’s works from this era survive, because most of them were either seized by the Nazis as degenerate art and destroyed, or were destroyed in Allied bombing raids. His work was also part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1932 Summer Olympics.

His marriage to Marta ended in 1933. In 1934-1935 he lived in Berlin. He fled to France in 1936, and settled in Paris, where his work became more colourful, curvilinear and rhythmic. He was interned by the occupation authorities in 1940, but he escaped to Switzerland. In 1949 he returned to Cologne and resumed his work, producing many paintings of horses shortly before adopting an abstract style in 1957.

Räderscheidt was to return to the themes of his earlier work in some of his paintings of the 1960s. After suffering a stroke in 1967, he had to relearn the act of painting. He produced a penetrating series of self-portraits in gouache in the final years of his life. Anton Räderscheidt died in Cologne in 1970.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen' (Young man with yellow gloves) 1921 (installation view)

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen (Young man with yellow gloves)
1921
Oil on panel
27.4 x 18.6cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Painter with Model (Self Portrait)' 1928 (installation view)

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Painter with Model (Self Portrait)
1928
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Painter with Model (Self Portrait)' 1928

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Painter with Model (Self Portrait)
1928

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Zirkusarbeiter' (Circus Workers) 1926-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Zirkusarbeiter (Circus Workers)
1926-1932
Gelatin silver print
28 x 21.10cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne/ Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber' (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) 1925 (installation view)

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber' (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) 1925 (installation view)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing Otto Dix’s Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) (1925, below)
Photos: Aubrey Perry

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Anita Berber in real life

 

This is Anita Berber in real life. The painted portrait was her at 26. She died three years later. “Sex, drugs, and rock & roll”

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber' (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) 1925

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber)
1925
© Sammlung Landesbank Baden-Württemberg im Kunstmuseum Stuttgart
Photo: Frank Kleinbac

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) Lustmord (Sex Murder) 1922 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lustmord (Sex Murder) (installation view)
1922
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix Sex Murder (Lustmord), 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lustmord (Sex Murder)
1922

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Transvestitenlokal' (Local transvestite) c. 1931

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Transvestitenlokal (Local transvestite)
c. 1931
Watercolour and pencil
29.50 x 58cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Dietmar Katz

 

Heinrich Hoerle (German, 1895-1936) 'Selfportrait' c. 1931

 

Heinrich Hoerle (German, 1895-1936)
Selfportrait
c. 1931
Oil on canvas
41 x 29cm

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Painter [Heinrich Hoerle]' 1928-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Painter (Heinrich Hoerle)
1928-1932
Gelatin silver print

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959) 'Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße' (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse) 1925 (installation view)

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse) (installation view)
1925
Oil on canvas
100 x 101.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959) 'Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße' (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse) 1925

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse)
1925
Oil on canvas
100 x 101.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© The estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Cem Yücetas

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Proletarian Intellectuals' [Else Schuler, Tristan Rémy, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Gerd Arntz] c. 1925

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Proletarian Intellectuals [Else Schuler, Tristan Rémy, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Gerd Arntz]
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
From the Pompidou Centre collection

 

Heinrich Jost (German, 1889-1948) 'Werbefaltblatt "Für Fotomontage Futura"' (Promotional leaflet "For photomontage Futura") Nd

 

Heinrich Jost (German, 1889-1948)
Werbefaltblatt “Für Fotomontage Futura” (Promotional leaflet “For photomontage Futura”)
Nd
Press advertisement in four inserted pages
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo credits: © Archiv der Massenpresse P. Rössler

 

Erich Wegner (German, 1899-1980) 'Wirtshaustheke' (Pub bar) c. 1927

 

Erich Wegner (German, 1899-1980)
Wirtshaustheke (Pub bar)
c. 1927
Canvas on plywood

 

Walter Schulz-Matan (German, 1899-1965) 'Der Fayencesammler' (The faience collector) 1927

 

Walter Schulz-Matan (German, 1899-1965)
Der Fayencesammler (The faience collector)
1927
Oil on canvas
© Münchner Stadtmuseum

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978) 'Gläser' (Glasses) 1927 (installation view)

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978)
Gläser (Glasses) (installation view)
1927
Oil on canvas
77.50 x 77.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Better known for her Dadaist collages and photomontages, the Berlin artist Hannah Höch creates here a hyperrealistic still life whose composition is strongly influenced by photography of the time: overhanging point of view, tight framing, neutral space, absence of context particular. The texture of the glass objects is rendered with great precision: this transparency symbolises a new conception of painting, which must show the objects in a limpid manner, without filter. In the very foreground, in an inverted reflection, the painter has represented herself at her easel in front of a window.

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978) 'Gläser' (Glasses) 1927

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978)
Gläser (Glasses)
1927
Oil on canvas
77.50 x 77.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image MHK

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Gläser' (Glasses) 1926-1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Gläser (Glasses)
1926-1927
Gelatin silver print
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© Albert Renger-Patzch-Archiv / Ann & Jürgen Wilde / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Bärwurz' Between 1926-1928

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Bärwurz
Between 1926-1928
Gelatin silver print
48 x 35.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo credits: © Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich

 

Sasha Stone (1895, Russia - 1940, France) 'Wenn Berlin Konstantinopel wäre' (If Berlin were Constantinople) Before 1929

 

Sasha Stone (1895, Russia – 1940, France)
Wenn Berlin Konstantinopel wäre (If Berlin were Constantinople)
Before 1929
Photo montage
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Public domain
Photo credits: © Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation views of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at second left, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert’s Wandbild für einen Fotografen (Mural for a Photographer) (1925, below); and at right, George Grosz’s Konstruktion (Ohne Titel) (1920, below)
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Wandbild für einen Fotografen' (Mural for a Photographer) 1925 (installation view)

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Wandbild für einen Fotografen (Mural for a Photographer)
1925
Oil on canvas
109.5 × 154.5cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Wandbild für einen Fotografen' (Mural for a Photographer) 1925

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Wandbild für einen Fotografen (Mural for a Photographer)
1925
Oil on canvas
109.5 × 154.5cm

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959) 'Construction (Untitled)' (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel]) 1920 (installation view)

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Konstruktion (Ohne Titel) (Construction (Untitled)) (installation view)
1920
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

George Grosz. 'Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel])' 1920

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Konstruktion (Ohne Titel) (Construction (Untitled))
1920

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Freudlose Gasse' (Joyless Street) 1927 (installation view)

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Freudlose Gasse (Joyless Street) (installation view)
1927
Oil on canvas
65.5 x 80cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (March 9, 1894 – July 3, 1933) was a German painter and sculptor in a constructivist style. He was also politically active as a communist making significant contributions, both graphic and theoretical to Die Aktion.

Seiwert was born in Cologne. He was seriously burned in 1901, at the age of seven, in an experimental radiological treatment. As a result, he subsequently lived with the fear that his life would be short.

He studied from 1910 to 1914 at the Cologne School of Arts and Crafts. In 1919 he met Max Ernst and took part in Dada activities. He was invited to exhibit in the large Dada exhibit in Cologne but withdrew at the last moment. In that same year he formed the Stupid group which included Heinrich Hoerle and Anton Räderscheidt. According to Ernst, “Stupid was a secession from Cologne Dada. As far as Hoerle and especially Seiwert were concerned, Dada’s activities were aesthetically too radical and socially not concrete enough”.

His first large solo exhibition was in Cologne at the Kunstverein in 1923, and by the mid-1920s he was a leader of the “Group of Progressive Artists”, who sought to reconcile constructivism with realism while expressing radical political views. In 1929 he founded the magazine “a-z”, a journal of progressive art. This became a vehicle for the exposition of Figurative Constructivism.

Seiwert was actively involved in the international discussions concerning proletarian culture during the revolutionary upsurge following the First World War. “Throw out the old false idols! In the name of the coming proletarian culture.”

Seiwert was the leading theorist of Figurative Constructivism describing its origins as “From the expressionist-cubist art-form abstract constructivism was developed, which in turn led into Figurative Constructivism”.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Seiwert briefly fled to the mountain range Siebengebirge, but his health was badly deteriorating, and friends brought him back to Cologne, where he died on July 3, 1933.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Freudlose Gasse' (Joyless Street) 1927

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Freudlose Gasse (Joyless Street) (installation view)
1927
Oil on canvas
65.5 x 80cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at left, Kate Diehn-Bitt’s Self Portrait as an Artist (1935, below); at middle, Gert Wollheim’s Untitled (Couple) (1926, below); and at right, Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall (1923, below).
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Kate Diehn-Bitt (German, 1900-1978) 'Self Portrait as an Artist' 1935 (installation view)

 

Kate Diehn-Bitt (German, 1900-1978)
Self Portrait as an Artist (installation view)
1935
Photo: Aubrey Perry