“Lovers Man and Woman"(1914), Egon Schiele
Bernd & Hilla Becher set of nine gelatin prints, Cooling Towers, Ruhr District, 1983, sold for $140,500 at the Photographs sale, 4 October 2011, New York.
By 1983, the year the present lot was photographed, Bernd and Hilla Becher had been collaboratively documenting industrial architecture throughout Germany and various regions in Europe and the United States for over twenty years. With an unerring eye towards objectivity, they photographed everything from Framework Houses to Gas tanks, Blast Furnaces to Water Towers. In doing so, theycreated a body of work with the aesthetic of documentary photography and the critical discourse of contemporary art.
As evident in Cooling Towers, Ruhr District, 1983, to achieve the objectivity that they desired, the Becher’s removed all indications of their presence from the photographs. Moreover, the elevated horizon line allowing immediate frontality, the tight frame around the structures and the conscious lack of shadows and figures,collectively form avisual consistency throughout their body of work. While it may be argued that this technical approach pushed their work more in the direction of historical records than photographic art, especially given that so many of their subjects have since been demolished, if that had been the case their descriptions would offer more to identify the individual structures, their architects and the dates of their construction, distinguishing the 19th century buildings from their 20th century counterparts. Instead, their descriptions note simply the function – plastered houses, winding towers- and the region, allowing for an art historical analysis that positions them as a critical lynchpin in the history of German photography.