Thomas Ruff
L’Empereur_06, 1982
From the series: L’Empereur
© Thomas Ruff / VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2020

For the first time, the exhibition SUBJECT and OBJECT. PHOTO RHINE RUHR will examine the relationships between the different photographic positions that have developed in the cities of the Rhineland as well as the Ruhr and at the regions’ art academies since the 1960s. This unique approach is due to the fact that such a rich photography scene was able to develop in western Germany, which has repeatedly produced new and innovative artistic positions with sometimes very different photographic approaches over the past 70 years. According to the thesis, on the one hand this is due to the density of art academies and trade schools that developed in the Rhine and Ruhr regions after the Second World War. On the other hand, it is also a result of artistic socialization through an intensive art-historical discourse, parallel artistic developments within the visual arts, and the engagement with positions of international art that were shown at the major institutions in Düsseldorf, Essen, Cologne, Krefeld, and Mönchengladbach.

An independent photo class was established in the 1970s at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf with Bernd and Hilla Becher. At what is now the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, where a photo class led by Max Burchartz existed as early as the 1920s (parallel to the developments at the Bauhaus in Dessau), photography was once again taught as an independent specialization starting in 1959, initially under Otto Steinert. Thus, two of the most internationally influential schools of photography emerged in close proximity to each other in Germany. In the vicinity of these two cities, there are further influential institutions with earlier art schools in Krefeld and Cologne in the 1960s and 1970s, where Arno Jansen served as head of the art and photography departments. In addition to the Folkwangschule in Essen and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, the Kunsthochschule für Medien, which was founded in the 1990s, is another important site for photography in Cologne, where Beate Gütschow has been teaching artistic photography since 2011, following Jürgen Klauke and Tobias Zielony.

The teachers’ works exhibit different perspectives on the medium of photography, especially in the artistic context. In Essen there was Otto Steinert with his approach of “subjective photography.” In Düsseldorf, Bernd and Hilla Becher, who followed a conceptual approach out of which a photographic practice developed that can also be seen in the tradition of the New Objectivity of the 1920s. In Cologne, in addition to Alfred Will, who was strongly oriented toward the ideas of the German Werkbund and initially trained as a graphic designer, there was Arno Jansen, who dealt with new artistic possibilities of the medium of photography in addition to the traditional genres such as portraits and still lifes. In Krefeld there was Detlef Orlopp, whose work explored abstraction and the process of recognition through the gaze in hyper-precise photographs. The extent to which teachers in the Rhineland and the Ruhr proclaimed their own artistic work and the subjective or objective photographic approach and thus shaped several generations of young photographers to this day will be discussed and highlighted in the exhibition.

The Bechers’ legendary class with now internationally celebrated “students” such as Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff, and Thomas Struth as the Düsseldorf School of Photography is one of the most successful movements in the history of photography. Graduates from Essen with Timm Rautert and Joachim Brohm are known and respected around the world for their documentary and artistic approaches. Jürgen Klauke, Astrid Klein, and Rudolf Bonvie developed independent artistic approaches in Cologne which dealt with issues of identity and gender beginning in the late 1960s. At the same time, Katharina Sieverding created her feminist-influenced art in Düsseldorf.

Central positions from all three generations as well as similarities and differences between the artistic approaches will be presented, but above all also positions that have received less attention will be featured and discussed in this context.

The Kunsthalle Düsseldorf hosted an exhibition by Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1969 under the title Anonymous Sculptures as well as a major solo exhibition with works by Andreas Gursky in 1998. Following in this tradition, and with a clear focus on artistic photography, SUBJECT and OBJECT. PHOTO RHINE RUHR explores the different fields of experimentation in the medium between subject and object.

Since the 1920s, not only in Germany, a visually striking spirit of capturing reality through photography has emerged, in which the elementary questions about the significance and meaning of the supposedly real image continue to be asked—especially with regard to the emergence of digital photography and its possibilities for manipulating the real.

The exhibition SUBJECT and OBJECT. PHOTO RHINE RUHR undertakes a methodological and chronological examination for the first time and is curated by Ralph Goertz with Gregor Jansen and Dana Bergmann.

A catalog in German and English will be published alongside the exhibition.