Photo Histories
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TITLE: Anonyme Skulpturen – Anonymous Sculptures.
A typography of technical constructions.
BY: Bernhard and Hilla Becher
PUBLISHED: 1970, Art-Press, Düsseldorf
SIZE: 280×218 mm

Anonyme Skulpturen - Anonymous Sculptures

The first book by the hugely influential Bernhard and Hildgard Becher. Look on the walls of any gallery showing photography as art today and you will see their legacy.

In the monograph Anonymous Sculptures the conceptual artists Bernhard (1931-2007) and Hildgard Becher (1931-2015) grouped clinically shot large format black and white images of uniform but non-identical structures in a way that exposed the differences and the similarities of these structures in a compelling way.

Here we have the lime-kilns, cooling towers, blast-furnaces, winding-towers, water-towers, gas-holders and silos of industrialised Western Europe categorised into prototypes of the pot, the oven, the chimney, the winch, the pump, and the laboratory.

For the viewer it is a game of comparison and awareness that encourages them to return to their own environment with fresh insight.

Much of what the Bechers photographed in the 1960s was scheduled for demolition, so almost immediately their images became a record of a lost past (often a photograph’s most emotive quality), but for the art world it is the combining of the nineteenth century view of photography as scientific recorder with the principles of modern conceptual art – where the concept is the most important part of the creative process, not the execution – that raises the Bechers to their exalted position.

There are no moody skies or human figures to distract the eye in the Becher’s work. Often they waited for days for the required flat non-expressive light so that each structure could be recorded in the same highly-standardised manner, a manner that alludes to earlier traditions in German photography.

The Bechers are heirs to the traditions of the Neue Sachlichkeit – the New Objectivity of fellow countrymen August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt and Albert Renger-Patzch who strove to reveal the “essence of the object” through formalised uniformity.

During his time as a professor at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf Bernhard became, perhaps, it’s most influential teacher numbering Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Frank Breuer and Andreas Gursky (he of the $3.3 million 99 Cent II Diptychon) among his students.

Distingusished predecessors at the Kunstakademie included Paul Klee and Joseph Beuys. Günter Grass was a student there in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In 1991 Bernhard and Hilla Becher were awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, in the category of sculpture. In 2004 they received the prestigious Hasselblad award, the citation placing them “among the most influential artists of our time”. Bernhard’s death in 2007 at the age of 75 brought many tributes.

Anonyme Skulpturen was photographed at Christie’s, London in May 2007. Text copyright © 2007/2017 Graham Harrison.

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