Photography and Video

Bernd und Hilla Becher, Hochofenköpfe, 1963-95, 15 schwarz-weiß-Fotografien, je 40 x 30 cm, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, © Hilla Becher

The newly-won importance of artistic photography over the past two decades is reflected in the oeuvre of Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931–2007 and *1934), from which the Kunstsammlung has acquired six series and three individual images. The works of this artistic couple, produced beginning in the 1960s, display industrial buildings such as blast furnaces and water towers as “anonymous sculptures,” at the same time avoiding subjective influences on the process of representation. Such works have made the Bechers important instigators of contemporary photographic art.

The perspective that shapes the photography of Katharina Sieverding (*1944) is drastically different from the one embodied in the Bechers’ work and exemplified their by now internationally recognized school. Against the background of recent German history and charged with transcendental references is Sieverding’s Stauffenberg-Block I-XVI/1969 (1969), which deals with the responsibility of the individual in relation to society. A very different photographic highpoint within the Kunstsammlung, and one that has in the meantime become an incunabulum of photo art, is Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona (1999) by Canadian artist Jeff Wall (*1946). The monumental lightbox confronts the viewer with the way in which this lucid structure – long since canonized as a prized “classic” of architectural modernism – is disarranged during its morning cleaning. Here, Wall plays the artistic order of modernism against the chaos of everyday life. So characteristic of Postmodernism, his oeuvre is stamped by an intricate network of historical references.

Currently under development at the Kunstsammlung is a selection from the realm of new media, i.e. video and film works. Among the circa 90 positions contained into the inventory to date are productions by Bruce Nauman (*1941) and Marina Abramovic (*1946). A very special work by Nam June Paik (1932–2006) has been permanently installed in the K21 Ständehaus: the Korean video pioneer’s TV-Garden (1974–77/2002) is a space-filling agglomeration of green plants and video monitors, a symbiosis of technology and nature which invites viewers to engage in meditative contemplation.