9 Entrancing Photos in the Spirit of the Düsseldorf School

Launch Slideshow

This autumn, Sotheby’s inaugural Postwar and Contemporary Photographs auction will feature 49 photos from the Ames Collection. At the core of the Ames holdings are important works created between 1988 and 2010 by photographers associated with the renowned Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, as well as artists who share their visual approach. Founded by German conceptual artists Bernd and Hilla Becher in the 1970s, the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf has birthed some of the most important photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Elger Esser, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, among others. Steven Ames became acquainted with the work of these photographers through his study of Gerhard Richter, who was a professor at the Kunstakademie between 1971 and 1993. Ahead of the 28 September sale, click ahead to preview nine captivating images, which are united in aesthetic, print quality and commanding scale in the spirit of the Kunstakademie. –Anais Feyeux 

Postwar and Contemporary Photographs
28 September | New York 

9 Entrancing Photos in the Spirit of the Düsseldorf School

  • Candida Höfer, Stiftsbibliothek Klosterneuberg III, 2003. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Candida Höfer is well known for her photographs of grand public places, such as libraries and opera theatres, always captured without people. Höfer emphasises the symmetry and elegance of these spaces, as well as their timelessness. 

  • Stephen Shore, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979, 1979. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Stephen Shore met Kunstakademie Düsseldorf founders Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1973 in New York and had a solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1977. His colour photographs, made in the 1970s with a large-format camera, had a great influence on the Düsseldorf School photographers. This image is one of the most famous from his iconic Uncommon Places series.

  • Rineke Dijkstra, Castricum aan Zee, The Netherlands, June 1992, 1992. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This image is an early example of Rineke Djikstra’s iconic series Beach Portraits (1992–2002). Although she did not attend the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, she shares with its students many similarities: use of frontal portraiture, seriality and fondness for colour images made with a large-format camera. Shooting from a low perspective, Dijkstra photographed adolescents in swimsuits on beaches from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Poland and Ukraine, capturing the raw emotions of her subjects.

  • Thomas Ruff, Portrait (L. Hoffman), 1989. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    This large colour photograph is part of the Portrait series Thomas Ruff worked on from 1981. All images in this series have the same presentation: an expressionless young sitter against a uniform background facing the photographer under even light. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s teachings directly influenced the documentary objectivity of these images.   

  • Joel Sternfeld, Wet 'n Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980, 1980. Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    Both Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld were included in the seminal book The New Color Photography, published in 1981. For the students of Bernd and Hilla Becher, this book was considered a bible. The present image is Sternfeld’s most enduring and was published on the cover of his book American Prospects

  • Thomas Struth, Mailänder Dom (Fassade), Mailand, 1998. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    Mailänder Dom (Fassade), Mailand (Milan Cathedral Façade, Milan) is an unequivocal masterpiece from Thomas Struth’s seminal Place of Worship series and a culmination of the most salient elements of the photographer’s previous photographs. Struth’s monumental colour photographs from this period are now his recognisable calling card. With Mailänder Dom, he became a leading figure of a new form of photography, one that could realistically claim to take the baton from historical painting by confronting antiquated modes of expression and depicting cityscapes with a rigorous, modern aesthetic. 

  • Elger Esser, Arles II, Frankreich, 2008. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This image comes from a series about the Rhone that Elger Esser completed in 2008. Commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture, Esser exhibited the complete series for the first time at the Rencontres d’Arles, an important global photographic festival. 

  • Thomas Struth, Gerhard Richter 1, Köln, 1993. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    Thomas Struth studied under Gerhard Richter at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the 1970s. Richter encouraged Struth to leave painting and instead study photography under Bernd and Hilla Becher. Beginning in the 1990s, Struth devoted a series of portraits to Richter, either posed alone or with his family. 

  • Olafur Eliasson, Untitled (From Iceland), 1998. Estimate $7,000–10,000.
    The multi-disciplinary artist Olafur Eliasson was not a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher but shares with them the same interest in documentary photography and seriality. Eliasson created many photographic series about the unique and unusual landscape of his homeland in Iceland. He presents these images either in grid or individually, such as the photograph offered here.   


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