Magazine article Artforum International

Bernd and Hilla Becher: Sonnabend Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Bernd and Hilla Becher: Sonnabend Gallery

Article excerpt

The photographic enterprise of Bernd and Hilla Becher is by now as seemingly archetypal as the structures it documents. Recording, over several decades, a range of building "typologies" around the globe--from water towers to grain elevators--their images offer up a kind of anonymous, parallel history of the industrial edifice. The same inexorably milky sky frames each structure, and atmospheric indicators are so minimal as to compel concentration upon the objects themselves. This is not to say that the eye isn't tempted by minutiae--the erratic arc of tire tracks, cement planters bearing shrubs, and parked cars that suggest a distinctly human absence.

Seized by the Bechers' camera, each tight-lipped facade offers up only the occasional, elliptical detail--whether inbuilt to its architecture or conferred by the vicissitudes of its use. On an industrial structure from Wanne-Eickel, Germany, in an image from 1998, an emblem of crossed hammers attests to the labor once carried out therein; a structure in Calais, France, photographed in 1995, bears the graffito NON AUX L', as if its author had been cut off midscrawl; a sign marked HALT in a picture from 1982 appears pinned to a Ruhrgebiet facade. Even without the haphazard appearance of that command to stop, the Bechers' buildings are typically impassable, impassively typical: three-dimensional structures reduced to frontage and the flatness of photography.

To be sure, that detachment appears occasionally breached, however inconspicuously. One building shot in Jersey City in 1994, for example, reveals a beam or tube that rejoins its facade from outside the frame, seeming to soar, in fact, over the viewer's head, and thus implying an extrapictorial space behind him, a phenomenological extension of the photograph's domain. For the most part, however, the images sever their structure--like the coal bunkers, stoneworks, and industrial facades on view here--from a wider spatial (or social) context. The seeming rigidity of typological classification found, in this gripping exhibition installed by Huila Becher herself, some striking deviations.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In a method used for the first time since 1981, a number of groupings include multiple photographs of the same building. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.