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Doing the Document: Photographs from Diane Arbus to Piet Zwart. The Bartenbach Donation
Fr. 31.08.2018 – So. 06.01.2019
Location Museum Ludwig – Cologne

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Diane Ar­bus, Boris Beck­er, Karl Bloss­feldt, Walk­er Evans, Lee Fried­lan­der, Can­di­da Höfer, Gabriele and Hel­mut Noth­helfer, Ta­ta Ronkholz, Al­bert Renger-Patzsch, Au­gust San­der, Hu­go and Karl Hu­go Sch­mölz, Gar­ry Wino­grand, Pi­et Zwart—across gen­er­a­tions, all th­ese pho­to­g­ra­phers cont­in­u­al­ly fol­lowed themes over de­cades in their work. In the case of San­der, th­ese se­ries formed an at­las of Peo­ple of the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, while Höfer has cre­at­ed an archive of public spaces and their codes of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and Bloss­feldt ca­t­a­logued the for­mal va­ri­e­ty of fau­na and flo­ra. “S­traight pho­tog­ra­phy” brought to­gether the vary­ing re­cep­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy as artis­tic and doc­u­men­tary in a par­tic­u­lar way.

This sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion pre­sents the mu­tu­al in­flu­ence be­tween Ger­man and Amer­i­can po­si­tions in the dense cul­tu­r­al land­s­cape of the Rhine­land from the 1960s to the 1990s. This is where the first pho­tog­ra­phy gal­leries were lo­cat­ed in the 1970s, which were en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port­ers of Au­gust San­der, Flo­rence Hen­ri, Pi­et Zwart, and Karl Bloss­feldt, as well as Amer­i­can pho­to­g­ra­phers in the 1960s such as Walk­er Evans, Diane Ar­bus, Lee Fried­lan­der, and Gar­ry Wino­grand, and pop­u­larized them by cont­in­u­al­ly en­gag­ing with the public. At the same time, Bernd and Hil­la Bech­er were high­ly in­flu­en­tial through their teach­ing at the Kun­s­takademie Düs­sel­dorf. And, not least, im­por­tant so­lo and group ex­hi­bi­tions had a last­ing im­pact on the re­cep­tion. In the 1950s, L. Fritz Gru­ber showed Au­gust San­der in the Pho­tok­i­na pho­tog­ra­phy shows. In 1976 the Kun­sthalle Düs­sel­dorf ex­hibit­ed pho­to­graphs by Walk­er Evans, and around the same time Klaus Hon­nef cu­rat­ed im­por­tant group ex­hi­bi­tions of doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy at the Rheinisch­es Lan­des­mu­se­um in Bonn.

This doc­u­men­tary and artis­tic ap­proach is pre­sent­ed and ques­tioned in Do­ing the Doc­u­ment. Walk­er Evans did not de­scribe his pho­to­graphs as doc­u­men­tary, but spoke of a “doc­u­men­tary style.” In 1967 the Mu­se­um of Mod­ern Art in New York showed works by Ar­bus, Fried­lan­der, and Wino­grand, all of whom are rep­re­sent­ed here, un­der the ti­tle “New Doc­u­ments.” Where does the doc­u­ment end and the artis­tic ges­ture be­gin? This is a ques­tion that has al­ways been de­bat­ed in the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy and must al­so be rene­go­ti­at­ed to­day in th­ese post-fac­tu­al times amid the in­creas­ing aes­theti­ciza­tion of archi­val and doc­u­men­tary ma­te­rials in con­tem­po­rary art. The ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tle Do­ing the Doc­u­ment de­lib­er­ate­ly dis­pens­es with the sup­posed op­po­si­tion be­tween the cre­a­tive and the doc­u­men­tary in or­der to ex­plore the oft-cit­ed “cri­sis of rep­re­sen­ta­tion” in the work of twen­ty pho­to­g­ra­phers and their re­cep­tion.


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