Candida Höfer, From Düsseldorf @Sean Kelly

JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 color photographs, alternately framed in white/wood frames and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space, the front room, the downstairs gallery, and the office area. All of the works are c-prints, made between 2005 and 2012. Physical sizes range from roughly 22×18 to 79×102 (or reverse), and all of the images are available in editions of 6+3AP. A monograph of the artist’s works taken in Düsseldorf has recently been published by Richter Fey Verlag (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: For those familiar with Candida Höfer’s recent photographs from Rome (here) or Florence and Naples (here) or with any of her last handful of monographs, many of the new images on view here will seem somewhat familiar, at least stylistically. Ornate churches, palaces, theaters, and grand ballrooms (both old and new), this time in Düsseldorf, are once again seen with the artist’s keen sense of formal precision. Portraits in symmetry and structure, these are pictures where space has been meticulously arranged and everyday grandeur is bounded by rectilinear order. While there is a distinct lightening of her palette and a movement to more all over whiteness in these particular interiors, these are largely pictures we have seen her make before, albeit in different locales and documenting alternate social arrangements.

But then, as they say, the plot thickens. Along one wall in the main gallery space are three images from the Neuer Stahlhof Düsseldorf, and they offer a direct rupture with the work we have seen Höfer produce for more than a decade. They capture the swirling nautilus spiral of a clean lined staircase, seen from three separate angles: directly below looking up, directly above looking down, and from below at a skew but steep angle. If the images were in black and white and printed small, we might mistake them for the vertiginous twisted views of the Bauhaus; as they are (two of three are big and glossy), we see Höfer consciously moving toward compositional isolation and abstraction.

This evolution continues in the entry area and the front room, where Höfer’s pictures move in closer toward corners, walls, and other anonymous architectural features, reveling in pared down surfaces and geometries. While Höfer has never been afraid of shiny Modernism or perfect streamlined newness in the spaces she has previously chosen, these new pictures go farther, pushing us closer to the slip resistant strips on a stone staircase, the mottled surface of footfalls on a red carpet, and the muted glow of light bulbs in a loose grid. The framing is tight, cropped down to fragments of texture and details of room architecture rather than wider and more expansive context. Also gone is Höfer’s squared off frontal perspective; we now find her moving, burrowing into and engaging with the architecture rather than taking it at face value from a respectful distance.

Given the artist’s history, these few pictures feel refreshingly radical, like she has let herself out from under the rigor of her signature approach – there’s even a fleeting reflected self portrait in an image of vertical window blinds. Her older works interrogated the arrangement of space and what those relationships offered in terms of clues about culture and society; these new ones take on spaces that have been reduced to minimums and search for the humanity to be found in the stylized perfection. An image of a nondescript room at the Schmela Haus is perhaps most indicative of this change in thinking – a symphony of subtle grey, it picks out the distinct physical textures of wood and brick, stone and fluorescent light, carefully harnessing the straight lines and angles of the floor, walls, and ceiling; what might appear to be a cold and unforgiving space actually radiates a surprising textural warmth.

Whether these pictures offer a permanent break or simply an improvisational interlude in Höfer’s career remains to be seen. But it’s certainly exciting to see an established artist take some chances and test herself, building on what she has perfected and willingly pushing it somewhere new.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at €17000, €28000, €52000, or €58000, based on size; these prices are the same as those at Höfer’s last gallery show at Sonnabend Gallery in 2013. Höfer’s work is widely available in the secondary markets. Smaller pieces can be found well under $10000 (often in editions of up to 100), while the larger works (printed in much smaller editions, usually 6) have ranged between roughly $15000 and $125000.

Candida Höfer, Sean Kelly Gallery, Richter Fey Verlag

2 comments

  1. Pete /

    I’ve unexpectedly found myself pondering Candida Hofer’s pictures on a few occasions recently, I’m not sure why.

    On the one hand her photographs are exquisite and assertive – they make photography look important, which is OK as their are still plenty of doubters out there who might need reassuring. That’s all good, but on the other hand I can’t shake off the feeling that they are screamingly vacuous (and not in a good way), and any collector who actually takes a chance and buys one – instead of a painting – will be bored with it after half an hour.

    Mr and Mrs Dusseldorf, Bernd and Hilla, built the approach evident here but their mission was to catalogue dirty old industrial stuff (from multiple vantage points) that was vanishing. As time passes those images of dreary content become more and more extraordinary, as they knew they would. In comparison I’m not sure of the worth of imaging such intrinsically splendid interiors as appeals to Hofer. Naturally the ‘beauty’ here (such as it is) is obviously not the grim sort that was found rotting in the Ruhr but perhaps more importantly these cultural heritage sites aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In a sense, these pictures could have been made a century ago or a century from now, there’s no imperative.

    To finish my rambling. I ask myself would Johann Sebastian Bach have taken pictures like these? I don’t believe so, no but I wonder if she may think they achieve the same thing.

    And, phew, finally, (and luckily no-one reads these comments so it’s OK to write this) when I heard American Topographics photographer Lewis Baltz had died (Nov ’14) I wept buckets. Pictures of empty places can be life-changing, and his were for me.

    Over and out.

  2. Tracy Hoffmam /

    Well said Pete! I love reading comments:)

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