Bernd and Hilla Becher
Date of Lecture: 1993-01-15
Since 1959, Bernd and Hilla Becher have engaged in a systematic form of photographic documentation of 19th and 20th century industrial and domestic architecture such as water towers, blast furnaces, gas tanks, framework houses and mineheads. Adhering to strict, formal criteria, the Bechers confront each building head-on with a 5×7 camera, producing images of apparent simplicity. Through the elimination of extraneous aesthetic information, the Bechers’ photographs allow the different functions and manifestations of each kind of building to become easily legible. The Bechers then classify and organize their images with respect to the different types of architecture, producing numerous typologies that, through their regularity, allow for the comparison of subtle variations and differences between each type of structure. The Bechers’ final pieces often take the form of grids, and while they are occasionally associated with minimalism, their work is primarily an expression of their own socio-political views.
In the mid-1970s, the Bechers began teaching photography at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf. While there, their conceptually rigorous approach to photography influenced a new generation of German artists including Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth.
The Bechers have been involved in numerous international exhibitions including the 1977 São Paulo Bienal, the 1991 Venice Biennale, where they won the Leone d’Oro award for their images of “anonymous sculpture,” and Documenta 5, 6, 7 and 11 in Kassel, Germany. In 1994, their Typologies installation was exhibited at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation in Toronto and in 1996, the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo held a retrospective of their work. In 2002, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam hosted the exhibition Bernd and Hilla Becher, industrial structures in conjunction with the presentation of the 2002 Erasmus Prize to the Bechers in recognition of their contributions to European culture.