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Photo Artists Make History - Becher Students in Deutsche Bank Luxembourg
City in Sight - Artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection look at urban life


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Photo Artists Make History
Becher Students in Deutsche Bank Luxembourg

From housing developments in rural Germany to the stock exchange in Singapore: Photographers from the Becher school have continually expanded the focus of their artistic work. They have done so not only by exploring the globalized world with their cameras, but have also expanded the possibilities of the medium of photography. Now an exhibition in Deutsche Bank Luxembourg is showing selected works by prominent Becher students from Deutsche Bank’s corporate collection.

They represent a completely new idea of photography. Initially, the Becher students experimented with oversized formats whose crystalline sharpness makes even minute details visible. They worked with both found pictorial material and the most advanced digital technology. With Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, and Thomas Struth German photography began to take international museums and the art market by storm. All of them studied with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy.

Now an exhibition in Deutsche Bank Luxembourg documents this important chapter in the history of photography, with around 70 works from the Deutsche Bank Collection and loans from the renowned photo collection of the German Stock Exchange. The show Photo Artists Make History is part of the official program of the European Month of Photography in Luxembourg, which is being celebrated starting April 24, 2013 at diverse exhibition venues in the Grand Duchy.

The exhibition illustrates how the Becher couple laid the foundations for a new kind of German photography in the 1960s. Their photographs of “anonymous sculptures” (as they titled their first illustrated book, published in 1970), which they conceived as series, show factories, blast furnaces, and water towers. The buildings – most of which no longer exist today – have a peculiar beauty. The Bechers viewed their sober typologies as being in the tradition of the New Objectivity. But starting in the late 1960s, their work was increasingly exhibited in connection with Minimal and Conceptual Art.

While Bernd Becher was the first person to be appointed professor of photography at a German art academy, when it comes to teaching students, the couple work together closely. Initially, the works of their first students were strongly influenced by their style. In the Luxembourg exhibition, this is illustrated by Thomas Struth’s views of a dreary suburban development from 1986/87 and Axel Hütte’s Dusseldorf from 1987. The latter photograph shows the corridor of a building as an ensemble of geometric surfaces. Jörg Sasse’s early interiors were also impacted by Becher’s eye for details. However, Sasse departed from documentary black and white at an early stage of his career. His color photos of lounge suites, flowerpots, and curtains can be viewed as investigations of formal issues. A short time later, Sasse stopped taking photographs and began reworking amateur photos at the computer. He enlarged them, selected details and colors, and eliminated disruptive aspects. The result were suggestive pictures, at once real and unreal, which cast doubt on photography’s ability to reflect reality.

Thomas Ruff also repeatedly questioned the conventions of photography, for instance, with his 210 by 165 cm Portraits (1986-91) which radically refuse to perform the classic task of this genre, namely, to penetrate the psychology of the person photographed. His Portraits show pure surfaces. “A portrait does not go one millimeter under the skin,” says Ruff, “and a single photo says nothing about the personality of the person portrayed.” The artist goes a step further with his series Other Portraits (1994/95). Using a “Minolta montage unit,” a picture generation machine used in the 1970s to produce phantom images, he fuses two portraits into a single ghostly face. Along with Ruff and Sasse, Andreas Gursky also turned to digital image processing, without which his detail-rich large formats such as Singapore Stock Exchange I (1997) from the Deutsche Bank Collection wound not have been possible.

While Gursky’s panoramas of stock exchanges, supermarkets, and techno clubs are devoted to settings of a globalized mass society, Candida Höfer focuses on places representing culture and tradition. Her deserted libraries, museums, and churches are diametrically opposed to Gursky’s scenes with masses of people. But what links the two artists, and the other Becher students on exhibit in Luxembourg, is their precise grasp of details and the cool objectivity of the their photos. The main attribute shared by the teachers and their students, however, is their mastery of composition.  
Achim Drucks

Photo Artists Make History
Bernd and Hilla Becher and their important students, with works by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, and Thomas Struth
April 25 – June 30, 2013
Deutsche Bank Luxembourg
Boulevard Konrad Adenauer 2
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm

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