Thomas Ruff
A photograph by Thomas Ruff, dated 1999

Thomas Ruff, d.p.b.02, 1999. Courtesy the artist © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022


November 5, 2022–March 5, 2023

Thomas Ruff and James Welling are among the best-known photographic artists of the present day. In their works, they explore the conditions of visual perception, also in relation to our use of the photographic apparatus, and the conditioning of our view of the world through photographic images. The exhibition Dark Matter. Thomas Ruff, James Welling focuses on works that wrest new possibilities from the photographic image and expand our powers of imagination. We perceive our environment subjectively, we see and feel it against the background of what we can grasp and understand in traditional images and words. Around eighty per cent of the matter in the universe consists of a substance that we do not know: Dark matter. Is it similar with the photographic image? Does it hide more than it shows?

Learn more at Kunsthalle Bielefeld

A detail of a photograph by Thomas Ruff, titled phg.02_I, dated 2013.

Thomas Ruff, phg.02_I, 2013 (detail)

May 14–August 28, 2022

The MAMC+ is presenting the first exhibition in a French museum by the German photographic artist Thomas Ruff.

Titled Metaphotography, this retrospective includes over forty years of Ruff’s career and aims to reveal the way in which the artist tirelessly questions the photographic medium itself, developing a “meta-photography.” Through seventeen series—including a new series titled Bonfils, 2022—the exhibition will present around one hundred artworks that form a chronology of the various types of imagery and technical processes that Ruff investigates, thus implicitly retracing a history of photography.

Ruff started his series of Interiors and Portraits in the 1980s, when he was still a student of Bernd Becher at the fine arts academy Kunstakademie, in Düsseldorf. Although these artworks became emblematic of his work, he nevertheless continued to explore many other approaches to photography. Beginning in the 1990s, Ruff chose to only use pre-existing images, which he then manipulates. The titles for his serial experiments illustrate the continually renewed diversity of his subjects, which the exhibition reflects: Stars, Press Photographs, Nights, Nudes, Portraits, ma.r.s, Photograms, Flowers, Chinese Paintings, and so on.

This exploration of camera technology and image production encompasses all kinds of photographs, while reinventing them, from satellite images to digital tools, to non-digital negatives and JPEGs. In drawing from existing photography, Ruff probes the medium’s capacity for technological evolution and the status of images, while constantly questioning photographic objectivity.

An installation view of an exhibition titled Thomas Ruff at Thomas Ruff at K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in 2020.
Thomas Ruff is a comprehensive solo exhibition at K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, on view through February 7, 2021. The show presents a broad survey of Ruff’s work from the past two decades, and includes a room dedicated to his tableau chinois series. Begun in 2019, these works examine the complex relationship between photography, political propaganda, and the possibilities of digital manipulation.
Coinciding with the K21 show, Ruff’s first exhibition at the gallery’s Paris location will focus on the tableau chinois works. Thomas Ruff: tableaux chinois opens January 14, 2021 and will be on view through March 6, 2021. 


Image: Installation view, Thomas Ruff, K20, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen,  Düsseldorf. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo by Achim Kukulies

Thomas Ruff: tableaux chinois

A photograph by  Thomas Ruff titled, tripe_01 Amerapoora. Mohdee Kyoung, dated 2018.

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."

Related Event:
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

Read more: reviews of the exhibition in Elephant Magazine, Wallpaper, and Time Out London, which gave it four stars.

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

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 2May 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.

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