signed, dated 1991 and numbered 3/5 on the backing board
chromogenic print face-mounted on Diasec in artist's frame
Executed in 1991, this work is number 3 from an edition of 5, plus 2 artist's proofs.
Essor Gallery Limited, London
Galerie Nelson, Paris
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2003
Matthias Winzen, Thomas Ruff: 1979 to the Present, Cologne, 2001, no. POR 093, pp. 128 and 188, illustrated in color
This iconic twofold self-portrait articulates the essence of German photographer Thomas Ruff's distinguished early oeuvre. In 1981 Ruff began to shoot portraits as a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher's at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. He echoed the deadpan approach the Bechers used to distill black and white images of industrial architecture, thereby attempting to rid his images of emotion. However, unlike the prominent Becher husband and wife pair, Ruff infused saturated, vibrant color in his photographs.
In the current example, the even light illuminates the surface of the picture, while the void backdrop heightens the strength of the image. The viewer sees nuances in the texture of the skin, distinct features of the face, the casual choice of clothing and the unrestrained hairstyle that make Ruff's portraits so distinctive. In fact, Ruff's rigid adherence to structure and form make his portraits individually unique, but collectively representative of a young generation of Germans – of which he is part and parcel – in the 1980s and 1990s in Düsseldorf.
The precarious political and social climate of 1980s West Germany was inextricably linked with bombings and assassinations carried out by the Red Army Faction, which spread fear and paranoia. Working in this environment, Ruff instructed his sitters – often friends – to be confident, but also conscious that they were being photographed. Likewise, in this turbulent context, he did not want them to reveal too much. He intentionally avoided any commentary through facial expressions in this tense moment of German history.
An artist's self-portrait is a motif repeated throughout art history, but in this case, Ruff appears not once, but twice. Unflinchingly and somewhat candidly he confronts the viewer as he holds his eyeglasses by his waist. By doubling his self-portrait, we see two iterations of the artist; our eyes search for the distinctions in the shadows on his shirt and the strands of his hair. Ruff turning the lens on himself is not only an experiment to see how he feels as the subject, but also captures a historically significant precedent for the artist, who later explores montage. Porträt (T. Ruff) (POR 093) is a critical work for the artist and reveals a double-sided vision of himself as part of larger, complex narrative of portraiture in this period in West Germany.
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