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Bernd and Hilla Becher

Bernd and Hilla Becher

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Bernard "Bernd" Becher (August 20, 1931 – June 22, 2007), and Hilla Becher, née Wobeser (born September 2, 1934), were German artists working as a collaborative duo. They are best known for their extensive series of photographic images, or typologies
Typology (urban planning and architecture)
Typology is the taxonomic classification of characteristics commonly found in buildings and urban places, according to their association with different categories, such as intensity of development , degrees of formality, and school of thought...

, of industrial buildings and structures.

Biography


Bernd Becher was born in Siegen
Siegen
Siegen is a city in Germany, in the south Westphalian part of North Rhine-Westphalia.It is located in the district of Siegen-Wittgenstein in the Arnsberg region...

. He studied painting at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart from 1953 to 1956, then typography
Typography
Typography is the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading , adjusting the spaces between groups of letters and adjusting the space between pairs of letters...

 under Karl Rössing at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie
Kunstakademie Düsseldorf
The Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, formerly Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, is the Arts Academy of the city of Düsseldorf. It is well known for having produced many famous artists, such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Thomas Demand, and Andreas Gursky...

 from 1959 to 1961. Hilla Becher was born in Potsdam
Potsdam
Potsdam is the capital city of the German federal state of Brandenburg and part of the Berlin/Brandenburg Metropolitan Region. It is situated on the River Havel, southwest of Berlin city centre....

. Prior to Hilla's time studying photography at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie
Kunstakademie Düsseldorf
The Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, formerly Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, is the Arts Academy of the city of Düsseldorf. It is well known for having produced many famous artists, such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Thomas Demand, and Andreas Gursky...

 from 1958 to 1961, she had completed an apprenticeship as a photographer in her native Potsdam. Both began working as freelance photographers for the Troost Advertising Agency in Düsseldorf, concentrating on product photography.

The couple married in 1961.

Work


Meeting as painting students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1957, Bernd and Hilla Becher first collaborated on photographing and documenting the disappearing German industrial architecture in 1959. The Ruhr Valley
Ruhr
The Ruhr is a medium-size river in western Germany , a right tributary of the Rhine.-Description:The source of the Ruhr is near the town of Winterberg in the mountainous Sauerland region, at an elevation of approximately 2,200 feet...

, where Becher’s family had worked in the steel and mining industries, was their initial focus. They were fascinated by the similar shapes in which certain buildings were designed. In addition, they were intrigued by the fact that so many of these industrial buildings seemed to have been built with a great deal of attention toward design. Together, the Bechers went out with a large 8 x 10-inch view camera and photographed these buildings from a number of different angles, but always with a straightforward "objective" point of view. They shot only on overcast days, so as to avoid shadows, and early in the morning during the seasons of spring and fall. Objects included barns, water towers, oal tipples, cooling towers, grain elevators, coal bunkers, coke ovens, oil refineries, blast furnaces, gas tanks, storage silos, and warehouses. At each site the Bechers also created overall landscape views of the entire plant, which set the structures in their context and show how they relate to each other. One of their first projects, which they pursued for nearly two decades, was published as “Framework Houses” (Schirmer/Mosel) in 1977, a visual catalog of types of structures, an approach that characterized much of their work.

In drawing attention to the cultural dimension of industrial architecture, their work also highlighted the need for preservation of these buildings. On the couple's initiative, for example, the Zollern coal mine at Dortmund-Bovinghausen
Dortmund
Dortmund is a city in Germany. It is located in the Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, in the Ruhr area. Its population of 585,045 makes it the 7th largest city in Germany and the 34th largest in the European Union....

 in the Ruhr, for the most part an art-deco structure, was designated a protected landmark.

The Bechers also photographed outside Germany, including from 1965 buildings in Great Britain, France, Belgium and later in the United States. In 1966, they undertook a six-month journey through England and south Wales, taking hundreds of photographs of the coal industry around Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and the Rhondda Valley. In 1974, they traveled to North America for the first time, touring sites in New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario, depicting a range of industrial structures, from coal breakers to wooden winding towers.

The Bechers exhibited and published their single-image gelatin silver print
Gelatin silver print
Gelatin silver prints were the dominant photographic process nearly from the period of their introduction in the 1880s until the 1960s when they were eclipsed by consumer color photography. As such, the gelatin silver or black-and-white print represents a primary form of visual documentation in the...

s, grouped by subject, in a grid of six, nine, or fifteen. By the mid-1960s the Bechers had settled on a preferred presentational mode: The images of structures with similar functions are then displayed side by side to invite viewers to compare their forms and designs based on function, regional idiosyncrasies, or the age of the structures. The Bechers used the term “typology” to describe these ordered sets of photographs. The works’ titles are pithy and captions note only time and location. In 1989–91, for an exhibition at the Dia Art Foundation
Dia Art Foundation
Dia Art Foundation is a non-profit organization that initiates, supports, presents, and preserves art projects. It was established in 1974 as the Lone Star Foundation by Philippa de Menil, the daughter of Houston arts patron Dominique de Menil and an heiress to the Schlumberger oil exploration...

 in New York, the Bechers introduced a second format into their oeuvre: single images that are larger in size—twenty-four by twenty inches—and presented individually rather than as gridded tableaux.

In 1976, Bernd Becher started teaching photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (policy matters prevented Hilla's simultaneous appointment), where he remained on the faculty until 1996. Before him, photography had been excluded from what was largely a school for painters. He influenced students that later made a name for themselves in the photography world. Former students of Bernd's included Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky is a German visual artist known for his enormous architecture and landscape color photographs, often employing a high point of view...

, Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff is an internationally renowned German photographer who lives and works in Düsseldorf.-Life:...

, Thomas Struth
Thomas Struth
Thomas Struth is a German photographer whose wide-ranging work includes depictions of detailed cityscapes, Asian jungles and family portraits. He is one of Germany's most widely exhibited and collected fine art photographers...

, Candida Höfer
Candida Höfer
Candida Höfer is a Cologne, Germany-based photographer and a former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Like other Becher students – Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth – Höfer's work is known for technical perfection and a strictly Conceptual approach...

, and Elger Esser. Bernd died in Rostock
Rostock
Rostock -Early history:In the 11th century Polabian Slavs founded a settlement at the Warnow river called Roztoc ; the name Rostock is derived from that designation. The Danish king Valdemar I set the town aflame in 1161.Afterwards the place was settled by German traders...

.

They were the 2004 winners of the Hasselblad Award
Hasselblad Award
The Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography is an award granted to "a photographer recognized for major achievements".The award – and the foundation – was set up from the estate of Erna and Victor Hasselblad...

. The motivation for the award:

Bernd and Hilla Becher are among the most influential artists of our time. For more than forty years they have been recording the heritage of an industrial past. Their systematic photography of functionalist architecture, often organizing their pictures in grids, brought them recognition as conceptual artists as well as photographers. As the founders of what has come to be known as the ‘Becher school’ they have brought their influence in a unique way to bear on generations of documentary photographers and artists.

Influence


The Becher school has influenced a number of (mainly) German photographers including Laurenz Berges, Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky is a German visual artist known for his enormous architecture and landscape color photographs, often employing a high point of view...

, Candida Höfer
Candida Höfer
Candida Höfer is a Cologne, Germany-based photographer and a former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Like other Becher students – Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth – Höfer's work is known for technical perfection and a strictly Conceptual approach...

, Axel Hütte, Simone Nieweg, Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff is an internationally renowned German photographer who lives and works in Düsseldorf.-Life:...

, Thomas Struth
Thomas Struth
Thomas Struth is a German photographer whose wide-ranging work includes depictions of detailed cityscapes, Asian jungles and family portraits. He is one of Germany's most widely exhibited and collected fine art photographers...

 and Petra Wunderlich. The Canadian Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky OC is a Canadian photographer and artist who has achieved international recognition for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes. His work is housed in more than fifteen major museums including the Guggenheim Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Bibliothèque...

 also works in a similar mode. Aside from its vital documentary and analytical qualities, the Becher's long-term project has also had a considerable impact on Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts...

 and Concept Art
Concept art
Concept art is a form of illustration where the main goal is to convey a visual representation of a design, idea, and/or mood for use in films, video games, animation, or comic books before it is put into the final product. Concept art is also referred to as visual development and/or concept design...

 since the 1970s.

Famous photographs

  • Industrial Facade #23, c1980.
  • Cooling towers, Wood n B, 1976. (Sold for $150,000 at auction in 2004. It is one of couple's highest selling works.)

Exhibitions


The Bechers had their first gallery exhibition in 1963 at the Galerie Ruth Nohl in Siegen. Their work became better known in the United States with the publication of their book Anonyme Skulpturen (Anonymous Sculptures) in 1970. The Bechers were shown at the George Eastman House and in solo exhibitions at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, in 1972. In 1974, the Institute of Contemporary Arts
Institute of Contemporary Arts
The Institute of Contemporary Arts is an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square. It is located within Nash House, part of Carlton House Terrace, near the Duke of York Steps and Admiralty Arch...

, London, organized an exhibition of their work, which toured the United Kingdom. The couple was invited to participate in Documenta
Documenta
documenta is an exhibition of modern and contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. It was founded by artist, teacher and curator Arnold Bode in 1955 as part of the Bundesgartenschau which took place in Kassel at that time...

 5, 6, 7, and 11 in Kassel in 1972, 1977, 1982 and 2002, and at the Bienal de São Paulo in 1977. The Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum
Van Abbemuseum
Van Abbemuseum is a museum of modern and contemporary art located in central Eindhoven, Netherlands, on the east bank of the Dommel river. Established in 1936, the Abbe Museum is named after its founder, Abbe Henri. Abbe was a lover of modern art and wanted to enjoy it there from Eindhoven...

, Eindhoven, organized a retrospective of the artists’ work in 1981. In 1985 the artists had a major museum exhibition, which traveled to the Museum Folkwang
Museum Folkwang
Museum Folkwang is a major collection of 19th and 20th century art in Essen, Germany. The museum was established in 1922 by merging the Essener Kunstmuseum, which was founded in 1906, and the private Folkwang Museum of the collector and patron Karl Ernst Osthaus in Hagen, founded in 1901.The term...

, Essen, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Liège, Belgium. In 1991 the artists won the Leone d’Oro award for sculpture at the Venice Biennale
Venice Biennale
The Venice Biennale is a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years in Venice, Italy. The Venice Film Festival is part of it. So too is the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which is held in even years...

. The Venice installation was reworked later in 1991, in a retrospective exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne. The Typologies installation was exhibited in 1994 at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, Toronto, and at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte
Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History
The Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History is an arts and cultural museum in Münster, Germany-External links:*...

 in Münster. Other retrospectives of the couple’s work have been organized by the Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kulture in Cologne (1999 and 2003), Centre Georges Pompidou
Centre Georges Pompidou
Centre Georges Pompidou is a complex in the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement of Paris, near Les Halles, rue Montorgueil and the Marais...

 in Paris (2005) and Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

 in New York (2008).

Collections


The Bechers' work is represented at major collections worldwide, among others the Tate Gallery
Tate Gallery
The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art...

, London, and the Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

, New York.

Recognition


In 2002 they were awarded the Erasmus Prize in recognition of their instrumental roles as professors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. In 2004, the Bechers received a Hasselblad Award.

Books by Bernd and Hilla Becher

  • Anonymous Sculptures: A Typology of Technical Construction, 1970.
  • Water Towers, 1988.
  • Blast Furnaces, 1990.
  • Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples, 1991.
  • Gas Tanks, 1993.
  • Industrial Facades, 1995.
  • Mineheads, 1997.
  • Framework Houses, 2001.
  • Industrial Landscapes, 2002.
  • Basic Forms of Industrial Buildings, 2004. ISBN 3-8296-0150-6.
  • Typologies, 2004. ISBN 0-262-02565-5.
  • Cooling Towers, 2006.
  • Grain Elevators, 2006.

External links