Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015) are widely regarded as the most influential German photographers of the post-war period. A rare artistic couple, they developed a rigorous practice focused on a single subject: the disappearing industrial architecture of Western Europe and North America that fuelled modernism.
Image above: Bernd and Hilla Becher, Framework House, 1961 © Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher, represented by Max Becher, Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on July 15, 2022, the Bernd & Hilla Becher exhibition will feature some 200 works of art and is the first posthumous retrospective of the artist couple’s 50-year career. Organized with full access to Becher’s extensive archive and her personal collection of working materials, the exhibition is the first American retrospective since 1974 (when her mature style was still developing).
The exhibition is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel, the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation, the Edward John & Patricia Rosenwald Foundation, and Linda Macklowe.
It is organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in collaboration with Studio Bernd & Hilla Becher and Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur.
“Bernd and Hilla Becher transformed photography in the late 20th century, and their groundbreaking work continues to influence artists today,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. “It is a privilege to present this first posthumous retrospective and celebrate their legacy and remarkable artistic achievement.”
The Bechers’ seemingly objective aesthetic echoed models from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but also resonated with the serial, premeditated advances of contemporary Minimalism and Conceptual art. Equally significant, their aesthetic challenged the perceived divide between documentary and fine art photography. The artists used a large-format view camera-similar to those used by 19th-century photographers such as the Bisson Frères in France and Carleton Watkins in the American West-and disdained the hand-held 35mm roll-film cameras favored by journalists and pre- and post-war artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Working exclusively with black-and-white photographic material, they intentionally avoided the medium’s inevitable shift to color that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, methodically capturing blast furnaces, pithead towers, grain silos, cooling towers, and gas tanks with precision, elegance, and passion. Their standardized approach allowed for comparative analyses of structures, which they exhibited in grids of 4 to 30 photographs. They referred to these formal arrangements as “typologies” and the buildings themselves as “anonymous sculptures.”
The Bechers had a direct and profound influence on several generations of students at the renowned Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where Bernd was appointed the first professor of photography in 1976. Members of the so-called Becher School or Düsseldorf School of Photography include some of the most recognized German artists of the last 40 years, such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer and Thomas Ruff.
In addition to the individual and halftone photographs for which the Bechers are best known, the exhibition features extraordinary photographic and other media works they created before and after forming their creative partnership in 1959. These rarely shown lithographs, collages, photographs, ink and pencil sketches, Polaroids, and personal snapshots offer deep insight into the artists’ working methods and thought processes.
Bernd & Hilla Becher is curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, with assistance from Virginia McBride, Research Assistant in the Department of Photographs, both at The Met.
The Met developed the exhibition with Max Becher, the artist’s son, and with Gabriele Conrath-Scholl, director of the Photographic Collection/SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne, where the artist’s extensive photographic print archive is housed.
The Met Fifth Avenue
1000 Fifth Avenue New York
Friday, 15 July until Sunday, 6 November 2022