Bernd, Hilla and the Others: Photography from Düsseldorf (exhibition)

Edition 29 May 2018, by Phoebe Potter

Bernd, Hilla and the Others: Photography from Düsseldorf The decision by the Huis Marseille to dedicate their entire gallery space to one school of photography was a clever one. Whether or not you are aware of the precise and industrial photographs of the prominent artist couple of Bernd and Hilla Becher, as you weave up and down the two tall canalside houses that make up the Huis Marseille gallery in Amsterdam, their substantial influence is clear. The rare photograph alone catches your eye. Rather, as you work your way through the exhibition, the miniseries that many of the photographers work in (following the famous ‘typologies’ of the Bechers’ – a series of depictions of the same type of object) build to guide you through progressive generations of students whose coherency as a group holds a serves to strengthen the impact of their work.

The photographers are all those of the ‘Becher- Schüler’ – a group of artists from the mid-1970s onwards who studied under the Becher couple or their successors, Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. Where previously the academy had been associated with painting and sculpture (influential artists such as Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke studied here), the Becher’s brought a new photographic movement inspired by the ‘New Objectivity’ of the 1920s. Originally a reaction against expressionism, the photographs in the 1970s certainly entertain a rejection of the romantic longings of those artists. Rather, the Bechers’ photograph thoughtful considerations of more public subjects. A memorable series of photographs by one of Bernd’s students, Boris Becker, presents multiple ‘Hochbunker’ (or ‘above-ground bunkers’) and shows the clear influence of the school: almost documentary-like in style whilst suggesting the limits of photography as an objective medium to document.

Credit must also be given to the thoughtful curation of the exhibition. As usual, the Huis Marseille have not shied away from the rooms in their gallery whose luxurious frescos and marble decorations are a far cry from the clean, white walls that are so often the backdrop to contemporary art. Thomas Struth’s ‘Chiesa dei Frari, Venedig, 1995’ – a large photograph that fills the wall with the muted greens of the grand interior of the minor basilica – cannot be viewed without your eye floating to the similarly coloured ceiling painting by Jacob de Wit. Wit’s work depicts Apollo surrounded by muses, while Struth’s photograph leads the eye towards Titian’s altar painting of the Assumption of the Virgin, glowing compared to the muted colour surrounding it. The effect is of an absorbing end to an exhibition that is considered throughout.

Huis Marseille Amsterdam
Keizersgracht 401 – 1016 EK Amsterdam