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S/2 London presents "A New Objectivity: The Dusseldorf School of Photography"
Candida Hofer, Playfair Library. Color coupler print, mntd, 60 x 60 cm. Executed in 1998, this work is of an edition of 6.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s Sǀ2 presents A New Objectivity: The Düsseldorf School of Photography – a selling exhibition of important works by some of the greatest photographic artists working today. Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff all studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under the celebrated couple Bernd and Hilla Becher - whose seminal practice, with its rigorously objective approach to photographing industrial architecture, inspired a generation of leading German photographers. Between 1976 and 1986, the alumni from the first official class of Photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf swiftly acquired legendary status, a phenomenon that has since marked a turning point in the history of photography. The exhibition will feature works by both the Bechers and their former students.

Fru Tholstrup, Director of Sǀ2 commented: “Following the success of Sǀ2 London’s inaugural selling exhibition, Joseph Beuys Revealed, we are offering collectors a second landmark show, which celebrates the extraordinary legacy of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Gursky, Struth, Ruff, Hütte and Höfer - some of the greatest names in contemporary photography, learned their craft from these two extraordinary catalysts. Inspired by the Bechers’ conceptual authority and singular, objective approach, they belonged to the first generation of photographic artists to work entirely in colour and on a monumental scale to rival that of painting.”

Bernd and Hilla Becher met in 1957 at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where they both studied Typography. By 1961 they had married and crystallised a project which would set the groundwork for a new photographic avantgarde. They began to document the rapidly disappearing German industrial architecture of the Ruhr Valley, where Bernd Becher’s family had worked in the steel and mining industries. The Bechers photographed industrial buildings, including water towers, oil refineries, storage silos and warehouses with a large 8 x 10 inch view camera, always using a straightforward “objective” viewpoint. Their aim was to classify and impartially document these functional buildings without ornament or affect, an approach that imparted a “Natural History of industrial shapes”. They exhibited and published their single-image gelatin silver prints grouped by subject in grids. Together, these ordered sets or “typologies” invited viewers to compare the forms and designs of these structures based on their function, regional idiosyncrasies or age. Their place on the art world stage was cemented with an exhibition at Documenta in 1972 and in 1976 at Illeana Sonnabend in New York. In 1976, Bernd took up the position as the very first Professor of Photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Seminars were held at Bernd and Hilla’s home and within the space of 10 years, the class had begun to acquire mythic status. With an artistic career devoted to a singular photographic engagement (an example from which is included in the exhibition), in 2004 the Bechers were presented with the prestigious Hasselblad Award.

Seriality, measured detachment and enveloping views of our contemporary world unite divergent works by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer and Axel Hütte - the best known alumni of the Düsseldorf School of Photography.

Thomas Ruff was the first student to win international acclaim in the late 1980s, with his series of monumental, highly detailed, yet impersonal portraits of young Germans. He was also one of the first from the class to employ an epic scale in colour, commanding the use of large gallery walls, a format which would later become synonymous with the Düsseldorf School. Ruff’s work became more explicitly political in the 1990s with his infrared photographs of Düsseldorf at night, a series inspired by night-vision cameras used to relay television images during the Gulf War. Ruff has since developed a practice that eschews traditional photographic means. Announcing a movement towards the found digital image, his series of Nudes initiated in 1999 is sourced from stills from pornographic websites. Obscured and digitally processed without the use of a camera, these works extend the boundaries of classical photography as advocated by the Bechers.

Candida Höfer joined Bernd Becher’s photography class in 1978, and along with Thomas Ruff, was one of the first to win recognition for her monumental colour photographs. She rose to prominence with the series of sweeping depictions of libraries, churches and municipal buildings – large format images offering poetic analyses of the depopulated interiors which frame contemporary public life. Echoing the Bechers’ career-long devotion to a single subject, Höfer’s particular innovation lies in her remarkable ability to continually obtain lyrical and surprising results from the repetitious framework of her artistic enquiry.

Perhaps, more than any artist of his generation, Andreas Gursky’s photographic eye identifies the subjects of our contemporary landscape which most acutely define the way we live today. During his time studying in the Bechers’ class between 1980 and 1986, Gursky devoted three years to depicting security men stationed at the front desks of corporate buildings. In 1984, he experienced an epiphany, with the now seminal work Klausenpass – a version of which is featured in this exhibition. After developing a photograph of the aforementioned mountain pass in the Swiss Alps, Gursky noticed the incidental appearance of ant-like figures punctuating the vast landscape – a combination of micro and macrocosmic detail that would set a pattern for the rest of his mature production. Gursky hereafter developed a global taxonomy of our age, capturing stock exchanges, concerts, and techno raves via hyper-detailed, yet detached images in which individuals become part of an anonymous mass. Together these works narrate the history of our modern age of globalisation.

In 1976 Thomas Struth joined Bernd Becher’s inaugural photography course following the advice of his painting professor Gerhard Richter. Influenced by his teachers’ method, Struth embarked on a series of deserted black and white street views, works that were displayed in a grid-like, typological arrangement. Following these early photographs Struth’s practice expanded into a far-reaching and discursive documentation of our global landscape; many aspects of which are present within this exhibition. This protean body of work encompasses the acclaimed series of Museum Photographs and Places of Worship through to Struth’s depiction of Plasma Physics plants and NASA facilities – an updated response to the Bechers’ own industrial typologies.

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