Bernd & Hilla Becher

Bernd & Hilla Becher

Paula Cooper Gallery

Bernd & Hilla Becher, Blast Furnace, Youngstown, Ohio, USA, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 19 3/4 x 23 5/8 in. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers. © Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher.

February 21, 2024
Bernd & Hilla Becher
February 24–March 30, 2024
Opening reception: February 23, 5–7pm
Paula Cooper Gallery
534 W. 21st Street
New York, New York 10011
United States
Instagram / Artsy

During their almost fifty-year partnership beginning in 1959, Bernd and Hilla Becher pursued a project of systematically photographing industrial structures. Documenting previously commonplace edifices such as water towers, coal bunkers, blast furnaces and gravel plants—first in Germany and later across Europe and the United States—the Bechers challenged the perceived gap between fine-art and documentary photography. Following a major Becher retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2022, this will be the gallery’s second exhibition focused on the Bechers. Encompassing thirty-one single prints and two sixteen-part typologies depicting a range of industrial forms, the exhibition underlines how the Becher’s objective style resonated with the serial approach of Minimal and Conceptual art.

The Bechers described the structures that made up the industrial landscape they sought to document as “anonymous sculptures,” and this anonymity informed their objective photographic style. Avidly researching the function and construction of each structure to effectively illustrate its form, the Bechers approached their subject and their project with scientific precision. Each photograph conforms to one of three views: landscape, individual structure, or detail, and each form is positioned squarely within the frame. The purpose of their rigorous method is evident in the typologies—sequences of images grouped to draw out the similarities between forms. In Grain Elevators, 1977–1991, for example, the artists have combined sixteen views of grain elevators in the United States, Germany and France, allowing the form of the structures to unwind and reveal its function through comparison of unique and ubiquitous features. As evidenced in the extended period over which the photographs for this typology were taken, the Bechers would spend years fine-tuning a typology, switching individual prints in and out and rearranging them until the grouping achieved “klang”—a total harmony, in a visual sense.

The Becher’s photographs stand as monuments to a landscape that had once symbolized prosperity, but by the 1970s and 1980s was rapidly disappearing. Their exacting and tireless approach and their preference for photographing structures in active use caused their inadvertent documentation of not only the forms of “anonymous sculptures,” but the unravelling of an entire infrastructure.

Bernd Becher (b.1931, Siegen, Germany; d. 2007) and Hilla Becher (b.1934, Potsdam, Germany; d. 2015) met while studying at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1959. The Bechers were the subject of a major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2022 which travelled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2023. Other important one-person shows include those at Photographic Collection/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne (2006, 2010, 2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2008); Nationalgalerie Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2005); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2004); K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf (2003); and XLIV Venice Biennale (1990), for which they were awarded the Golden Lion. The Bechers have been the recipients of other prestigious honors, including the 1985 Cultural Award from the German Society for Photography (DGPh), the 2002 Erasmus Prize, and the 2004 Hasselblad Award. From 1976 to 1996 Bernd Becher taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he and Hilla had an unparalleled influence on a generation of highly successful photographers. The Bechers’ work is held in prominent public collections around the world, including Tate Gallery, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Getty Museum, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg.

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Paula Cooper Gallery
February 21, 2024

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