The renowned German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931–2007; 1934–2015) changed the course of late twentieth-century photography. Working as a rare artist couple, they focused on a single subject: the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe and North America that fueled the modern era. Their seemingly objective style recalled nineteenth- and early twentieth-century precedents but also resonated with the serial approach of contemporary Minimalism and Conceptual art. Equally significant, it challenged the perceived gap between documentary and fine art photography.
Using a large-format view camera, the Bechers methodically recorded blast furnaces, winding towers, grain silos, cooling towers, and gas tanks with precision, elegance, and passion. Their rigorous, standardized practice allowed for comparative analyses of structures that they exhibited in grids of between four and thirty photographs. They described these formal arrangements as “typologies” and the buildings themselves as “anonymous sculpture.”
Featuring some 200 works of art, this posthumous retrospective celebrates the Bechers’ remarkable achievement and is the first ever organized with full access to the artists’ personal collection of working materials and their comprehensive archive. The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in association with Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur.
Header: Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hochöfen, Vereinigte Staaten, Deutschland, Frankreich, Luxemburg, Belgien (Blast Furnaces, United States, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium), 1968–93; The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; © Estate of Bernd and Hilla Becher; photo: Don Ross