First shown at Ruff’s retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2017, m.n.o.p. features archival photographs that the artist purchased at various auctions depicting installation views of an exhibition at The Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York (a precursor to The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). Ruff scanned the originals and digitally applied color to the black-and-white imagery, but left the exhibited artworks untouched. While his chosen palette appears to emphasize the dated interiors of the venue, the iconic works on view—by artists including Kandinsky— appear timeless, thus subverting the notion of black-and-white photography as historical.
Ahead of his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, Ruff created a related series, w.g.l., which takes its point of departure in black-and-white photographs documenting Jackson Pollock’s first exhibition in London at the same venue in 1958. Ruff scanned the originals and digitally added color to select architectural details within the gallery space, leaving the walls and Pollock’s works in the original monotone hues. As a result, the abstract expressionist paintings—which had caused a strong reaction upon the exhibition’s opening—appear subdued against a vibrant modernist interior. Although using digital imaging, Ruff’s interventions reference the early practice of hand-tinting black-and-white photographs. As Nayia Yiakoumaki has noted, "Seen as artificially colored photography, in part painting and in part photography but never entirely both, Ruff's remarkable series reinvests in the complicated relationship between these two pictorial media. His careful coloring process does not add an extra layer of realism to the original image, but displaces the pictorial elements that compose it. By leaving the painting on display untouched, and tinting whole surfaces of the exhibition space, a re-framing of the artworks on the walls and the surrounding interior space takes place."1
1 Nayia Yiakoumaki, "Colouring Photographs," in Iwona Blazwick, ed., Thomas Ruff. Exh. cat. (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2017), p. 210.