Thomas Ruff: Tranforming Photography
May 22—June 29, 2019
David Zwirner is pleased to present work by German photographer Thomas Ruff (b. 1958), on view across two floors of the gallery’s Hong Kong location. The exhibition will provide an overview of the artist’s prodigious career, ranging from seminal early series to a new body of work.
Ruff rose to international prominence in the late 1980s as a member of the Düsseldorf School, a group of young photographers who had studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the renowned Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and became known for their experimental approach to the medium and its evolving technological capabilities. Ruff in particular made a radical break with the style of his teachers, establishing a distinct approach to conceptual photography through a variety of strategies, including the use of color, the purposeful manipulation of source imagery—originally through manual retouching techniques and eventually through digital methods—and the enlargement of the photographic print to the scale of monumental painting. Working in discrete series, Ruff has since utilized these methods to conduct an in-depth examination of a variety of photographic genres, including portraiture, the nude, landscape, and architectural photography, among others.
Highly influential to subsequent generations of photographers, Ruff’s overarching inquiry into the nature of photographic representation accounts for not only his heterogeneous subject matter, but also the extreme variation of technical means used to produce his series, ranging from anachronistic devices to the most advanced computer simulators and covering nearly all ground in between. As he has noted, "I always want to take the medium of photography into the picture, so that you are always aware that you are looking at an image—a photograph—so, in the picture I hope you can see two things: the image itself, plus the reflection—or the thinking—about photography…. It is as if I am investigating the grammar of photography."1
On view will be examples from a number of key series including Sterne (1989–1992), Nudes (1999–), Substrate (2001–), jpeg (2004–), Photograms (2012–), Tripe (2018), and flower.s (2018–).
This will be Ruff’s tenth solo exhibition with David Zwirner since joining the gallery in 2000. On the occasion, a new publication on Ruff’s work, featuring an interview with the artist by Okwui Enwezor, is forthcoming from David Zwirner Books, and will be available in both English-only and bilingual English/traditional Chinese editions.
1 Guy Lane, "Thomas Ruff Interview," Foto8 Blog (October 24, 2009), accessed online.
Image: Thomas Ruff, Substrat 38 III, 2008 (detail)
October 12–November 27, 2018
Thomas Ruff’s work featured prominently in Photography Spotlight, an exhibition at the V&A celebrating the opening of the first phase of the museum’s new Photography Centre. As a special commission to inaugurate the space, Ruff created a new body of work titled Tripe/Ruff, based on Linnaeus Tripe’s paper negatives of India and Burma from the V&A’s collection.
A British army captain, Tripe was one of the first photographers to have surveyed the landscapes and buildings in India and Burma (now Myanmar) in the mid-nineteenth century. As Ruff explains in a video about the commission, "I’m very interested in the history of the practice of photography. I think in the very beginning the photographer had to solve a lot of different problems—papers, chemicals, printing techniques. . . . I’ve never thought about the paper negative. I’m really surprised, astonished, and fascinated [by] how they made such beautiful photographs." For his new series, the artist has inverted Tripe’s negatives into positive images, enlarging them to a scale where it is possible to see the structure of the originals and details such as clouds, which Tripe had retouched in his photographs to enhance them. "A lot of things are forgotten by not showing them," Ruff says, "Making them visible is extremely interesting to me." Tripe/Ruff extends the artist’s engagement with a range of techniques as part of his photographic practice, which includes analog and digital exposures, computer-generated imagery, archival photographs, and pictures culled and manipulated from the media.
At the V&A, "Ruff has digitally manipulated Tripe’s negatives and then blown up the prints so they become even more detailed," Sean O’Hagan writes in The Guardian; "The results are fascinating in a cerebral way—especially Tripe’s painted-on clouds."
Friday, October 12, 7 PM
The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, V&A, London
As part of a three-week focus on photography across the V&A, on opening night Ruff was conversation with Martin Barnes, the museum’s senior curator of photography, about the new series.
Image: Thomas Ruff, tripe_01 Amerapoora. Mohdee Kyoung., 2018
27 September 2017–21 January 2018
Thomas Ruff was the first major retrospective of the artist's work in London. Curated by Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick, the exhibition spanned the full range of Ruff's photographic practice, from early series such as L’'Empereur, made in Paris in 1982, to his acclaimed Portraits begun in 1981, and his most recent press++ series based on archival newspaper clippings. As the artist told Aperture magazine, "I think photography is still the most influential medium in the world, and I have to deconstruct [its] conventions."
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated publication including essays by David Campany and Sarah Jones.
The Financial Times Magazine published an extensive profile of the artist on the occasion of this exhibition.
27 September 2017–21 January 2018
Thomas Ruff Portraits presented selected works from the artist’s ongoing Portraits series begun in 1981. In response to his research into portraiture while at art school in Düsseldorf, Ruff resolved to photograph his subjects in a way that would be as neutral as possible. The sitters, many of them friends of the artist, are photographed in their own clothes against a blank background, and were asked to keep their faces expressionless. The resulting portraits are presented as large scale, highly detailed works.
This exhibition coincided with the major retrospective Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979-2017 at Whitechapel Gallery in London.
March 30–July 9
The works Stoya (1986), Untitled Portrait (1987), and jpeg ny15 (2007) by Thomas Ruff were included in You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred, a group exhibition exploring how artists have used the camera to blur boundaries between past and present, fact and fiction. The exhibition also featured works by fellow gallery artists Wolfgang Tillmans and Christopher Williams.
The title of the exhibition was taken from a conversation between the artists Jeff Wall and Lucas Blalock in which they argue for art that is experimental and mysterious. Drawn exclusively from the Zabludowicz Collection, the works in the exhibition spanned 1977 to the present day.
You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred was accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with texts by Paul Luckraft and David Campany and a round-table discussion moderated by Chris Wiley featuring Lucas Blalock, Sara Cwynar, and Erin Shirreff. Published by the Zabludowicz Collection
May 6–May 28
Thomas Ruff was nominated for the seventh Prix Pictet for his ma.r.s. series of photographs.
The series is based on satellite images of the surface of Mars taken by the high-resolution camera aboard the NASA spacecraft Mars Renaissance Orbiter. Ruff's photographs transform the originals into visual statements that are at once documentary and fictional. As the artist explains in his statement, some of the works have been rendered as 3D images, adding an element of the absurd where deep textures on the surface of another planet become visible through cheap 3D glasses.
The Prix Pictet is the world’s leading prize for photography and sustainability, awarded to a body of work that is both artistically outstanding and presents a compelling narrative related to the annual theme. Nominated for this year’s theme of "Space," the ma.r.s. works were shown in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in May 2017.
Read more: Ruff in conversation with Artforum about the ma.r.s. series
December 10, 2016–March 12, 2017
A major retrospective of Thomas Ruff's work featured a wide variety of photographs drawn from 18 series from throughout the artist's career. It was his first comprehensive solo exhibition in the country.
Explore the exhibition microsite at thomasruff.jp
April 28–August 1
Object Relations focused on Thomas Ruff's series that used found and collected materials as source imagery. The show included over 30 photographs from five series. A number of works from the press++ series debuted at the AGO Toronoto, while the entirety of the series to date was concurrently on view at David Zwirner in New York. Selections from Ruff's own extensive collection of archival photographic materials were exhibited as well.
The Globe and Mail reviewed the exhibition stating: "For [Ruff], photography is a playground, a realm/reality unto itself, with an ever-expanding array of processes and potential..."
February 2–May 20
This exhibition was, at the time, Thomas Ruff's first comprehensive solo exhibition in 10 years. It presented all of the artist's series to date. The accompanying exhibition catalogue (Schirmer/Mosel, Haus der Kunst) features texts by Okwui Enwezor, Valeria Liebermann, and Thomas Weski.