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Museum Folkwang opens a large solo exhibition of works by the Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard
Installation view of Balthasar Burkhard's exhibition at Museum Folkwang.

ESSEN.- From October 20, 2017 to January 14, 2018 the Museum Folkwang is devoting a large solo exhibition to the Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944–2010). Comprising more than 150 works and groups of works, this comprehensive exhibition is the first time that Burkhard has received formal recognition on this scale from a museum in Germany.

The retrospective takes up the diverse threads of his work: Burkhard’s beginnings as a photojournalist, his role as a chronicler of the contemporary art of his time, and his emancipation as a photo artist. His oeuvre is almost unparalleled in the way it reflects the artistic self-invention of a photographer, and, further, the trajectory of the medium of photography in the art of the latter half of the 20th century. It coalesces the experience of conceiving the body as a sculpture and seeing the photographic image as a canvas. The Swiss artist is thus one of the first to translate photography as a monumental “tableau” into contemporary art.

The show examines Burkhard’s multifaceted work in stages—beginning in 1952 with photographs from his childhood and the period he spent training with the prominent Bern photographer Kurt Blum. It also focuses on Burkhard’s role as a close associate of the celebrated curator Harald Szeemann and a figure in Bern’s bohemian scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the pictures of the legendary 1972 documenta and the influential show When Attitudes Become Form in 1969 were taken by Burkhard.

At the beginning of the 1980s Burkhard mounted his legendary exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Basel (1983) and the Musée Rath (1984). The exploration of the body—as a human landscape or as a fragment—assumed a major importance in Burkhard’s work from that time on. In the retrospective, Burkhard’s group of nudes and body fragments can once again be seen thanks to the material that has been preserved in the form of studies and sketches and with the help of reprints. The reproduction of the destroyed thirteen-metre-long nude Der Körper I (The Body I) from 1983 constitutes a highlight not only in the exhibition in Essen but also in the photographer’s work as a whole.

Over the course of his career Burkhard repeatedly made portraits of artists. At the same time he made his own extensive series of animal portraits, which he shot in the encyclopaedic style of nineteenth-century photography. The images are known to many people from the children’s book “Click!”, said the camera and appear as large-format photographs at the Museum Folkwang. Burkhard’s large vedute of the major cities of the world (like Los Angeles and Mexico City) represent another facet of his work.

Balthasar Burkhard devoted his whole life to photography. The exhibition at the Museum Folkwang follows half a century of work, marked by the self-invention of an artist, colossal formats, and photographic innovations.

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