Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff. Photo: Albrecht Fuchs, VG Bild-Kunst 2020

 

At the heart of Thomas Ruff’s (*1958) complex oeuvre is a pioneering conceptual expansion of what constitutes photography. Ruff’s prodigious output varies widely, from analogue portraits to manipulated images appropriated from the internet, digitally-altered archival images and digital photograms. Works by the Dusseldorf-based artist consistently explore how historical and media-driven changes in photography affect our understanding of the relationship between image and reality.

 

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Ruff created his first photo series while still a student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher. Interieurs (1979–83) captures details of homes belonging to the photographer’s relatives and acquaintances. These are sober, unsentimental images, and yet they have an almost uncanny poignancy as well. His second series, Portraits (1981–87)—a group of large-format photographs showing the expressionless faces of his friends—was a crucial breakthrough for the artist, securing his position on the contemporary art landscape. Framed like a passport photo or mug shot against a plain background, the unusually oversized images take the genre of portrait photography to a subversive extreme. Though the matter-of-fact seriality of these works echoes the Bechers’ “typologies” of industrial relics, their superhuman scale unsettles the viewer. This influential series reads like a portrait of the artist’s generation: both silent and extremely telling at the same time.

Ruff’s Sterne (Stars, 1989–92) series was his first to integrate found photographic material. The large-format abstractions are based on telescopic photographs of the night sky, the Milky Way, stars and gas nebulae taken at the European Southern Observatory. The artist employs a similar strategy for his cassini (2008–present) and ma.r.s. (2010–present) series, for which he uses photos of the planets Saturn and Mars taken by NASA space probes. Another series titled nudes (1999–2012) show the artist turning his attention to the genre of nude photography: Ruff enlarged low-resolution pornographic photos from the Internet and manipulated them with a pixel-shifting process that gives them a blurry, painterly quality. A similar strategy comes to bear in jpegs (2004–08), a series that foregrounds the eponymous digital image compression format. Here the artist made the found images smaller before expanding them to a large, almost monumental scale, so that their usually invisible pixel building blocks reach a size of several centimeters apiece. For press++ (2015–present), the artist collected historical press photographs from archives of American newspapers and magazines and scanned the front and back of each. Works in the series combine both sides of a picture in a way that renders texts, notations and traces of use by photo editors visible. The appropriation strategies Ruff employs in this and other series are never an end in themselves. They are rather used in the service of research—to illuminate the triumph of digital visual data in everyday life, for example, to broach the issue of authorship in the case of machine-made photographs or question the associative space of our collective voyeurism.

Another facet of the artist’s work is his investigation of photographic imaging techniques. Ruff’s Negatives series (2014–present), for example, involves a complex process used to transform found historical photographs into photo negatives. The characteristic sepia tint of early photography is converted to its opposite, assuming ghostly cyan tones that evoke the printing process of cyanotype. Also paradigmatic is his Photograms series (2012–present). In a virtual darkroom, Ruff digitally reinvents the most analogue of all photographic techniques: a method that involves placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper and then exposing them to light to create a picture.

Thomas Ruff’s work negotiates the historical, aesthetic and psychosocial life of photography, creating new visual experiences in the process. Photography, for the artist, is a consciousness-altering technology. The images we produce with it are like symptoms; they reveal more about us than we could possibly imagine.

 

Thomas Ruff
Victoria and Albert Museum studio visit, Dusseldorf, 2018

Works
Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Substrat 31III, 2007

Thomas Ruff
Substrat 31III, 2007
C-print
186 × 268 cm
73 1/4 × 105 1/2 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
press++50.08, 2016

Thomas Ruff
press++50.08, 2016
C-Print
237 × 185 cm
93 1/4 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
jpeg rl03, 2007

Thomas Ruff
jpeg rl03, 2007
C-print
263 × 188 cm
103 1/2 × 74 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
h.t.b.16, 1999

Thomas Ruff
h.t.b.16, 1999
C-print
21.5 × 29 cm
8 1/2 × 11 3/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
phg.03_I, 2013

Thomas Ruff
phg.03_I, 2013
C-print
240 × 185 cm
94 1/2 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
flower.s.11, 2018

Thomas Ruff
flower.s.11, 2018
C-Print
100 × 80 cm
39 3/8 × 31 1/2 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Haus Nr. 12 I, 1988

Thomas Ruff
Haus Nr. 12 I, 1988
Chromogenic print
179 × 212 cm
70 1/2 × 83 1/2 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
neg◊stil_02, 2015

Thomas Ruff
neg◊stil_02, 2015
C-print
27.4 × 23.4 cm
10 7/8 × 9 1/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Porträt 1985 (G. Benzenberg), 1986

Thomas Ruff
Porträt 1985 (G. Benzenberg), 1986
C-print
24 × 18 cm
9 1/2 × 7 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Cassini 10, 2009

Thomas Ruff
Cassini 10, 2009
C-print
98.5 × 108.5 cm
38 7/8 × 42 3/4 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
16h 08m/-25°, 1992

Thomas Ruff
16h 08m/-25°, 1992
C-print
260 × 188 cm
102 3/8 × 74 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
Porträt (C. Kühn), 1987

Thomas Ruff
Porträt (C. Kühn), 1987
C-print
232 × 185 cm
91 3/8 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
r.phg.03_III, 2015

Thomas Ruff
r.phg.03_III, 2015
C-print
185 × 185 cm
72 7/8 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
3D_ma.r.s.01, 2012

Thomas Ruff
3D_ma.r.s.01, 2012
C-print
250 × 180 cm
98 3/8 × 70 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
press++32.65, 2016

Thomas Ruff
press++32.65, 2016
C-Print
228 × 185 cm
89 3/4 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
m.n.o.p.10, 2013

Thomas Ruff
m.n.o.p.10, 2013
Chromogenic print
77.5 × 102 cm
30 1/2 × 40 1/8 inches

Details
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
Substrat 31III, 2007
C-print
186 × 268 cm
73 1/4 × 105 1/2 inches

Thomas Ruff
Substrat 31III, 2007
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
press++50.08, 2016
C-Print
237 × 185 cm
93 1/4 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
press++50.08, 2016
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
jpeg rl03, 2007
C-print
263 × 188 cm
103 1/2 × 74 inches

Thomas Ruff
jpeg rl03, 2007
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
h.t.b.16, 1999
C-print
21.5 × 29 cm
8 1/2 × 11 3/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
h.t.b.16, 1999
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
phg.03_I, 2013
C-print
240 × 185 cm
94 1/2 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
phg.03_I, 2013
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
flower.s.11, 2018
C-Print
100 × 80 cm
39 3/8 × 31 1/2 inches

Thomas Ruff
flower.s.11, 2018
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
Haus Nr. 12 I, 1988
Chromogenic print
179 × 212 cm
70 1/2 × 83 1/2 inches

Thomas Ruff
Haus Nr. 12 I, 1988
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
neg◊stil_02, 2015
C-print
27.4 × 23.4 cm
10 7/8 × 9 1/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
neg◊stil_02, 2015
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
Porträt 1985 (G. Benzenberg), 1986
C-print
24 × 18 cm
9 1/2 × 7 inches

Thomas Ruff
Porträt 1985 (G. Benzenberg), 1986
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
Cassini 10, 2009
C-print
98.5 × 108.5 cm
38 7/8 × 42 3/4 inches

Thomas Ruff
Cassini 10, 2009
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
16h 08m/-25°, 1992
C-print
260 × 188 cm
102 3/8 × 74 inches

Thomas Ruff
16h 08m/-25°, 1992
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
Porträt (C. Kühn), 1987
C-print
232 × 185 cm
91 3/8 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
Porträt (C. Kühn), 1987
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
r.phg.03_III, 2015
C-print
185 × 185 cm
72 7/8 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
r.phg.03_III, 2015
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
3D_ma.r.s.01, 2012
C-print
250 × 180 cm
98 3/8 × 70 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
3D_ma.r.s.01, 2012
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
press++32.65, 2016
C-Print
228 × 185 cm
89 3/4 × 72 7/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
press++32.65, 2016
Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff
m.n.o.p.10, 2013
Chromogenic print
77.5 × 102 cm
30 1/2 × 40 1/8 inches

Thomas Ruff
m.n.o.p.10, 2013
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff / VG-Bild-Kunst, 2020
tableau chinois 08, 2019

Thomas Ruff
K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
September 12, 2020–February 7, 2021

In light of recent developments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), exhibitions, events and talks are subject to change.

Die umfangreiche Ausstellung von Thomas Ruff (*1958, lebt in Düsseldorf) im K20 konzentriert sich auf Fotoserien aus den vergangenen 20 Jahren, bei denen der zu den wichtigsten Vertretern der zeitgenössischen Fotografie zählende Künstler kaum noch selbst eine Kamera zur Hand nahm. Für seine oft großformatigen Bilder verwendete er stattdessen gefundene Fotografien unterschiedlichster Herkunft. Die Ausstellung bietet daher nicht nur einen Überblick über Ruffs Schaffen der vergangenen Jahrzehnte, sondern auch über fast 170 Jahre Fotogeschichte.

Link

Subjekt und Objekt. Foto Rhein Ruhr
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf
March 21–June 14, 2020

In light of recent developments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), exhibitions, events and talks are subject to change.

The exhibition presents central positions from three generations as well as similarities and differences between the artistic approaches, with a focus on positions that have received less attention. Subject and Object. Photo Rhine Ruhr with about 100 artists and more than 600 works undertakes a dialogic and thought-provoking examination of this development for the first time.

Link
Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
L’Empereur_06, 1982
Thomas Ruff
Estate of Marianne (My) Ullmann

Smoke and Mirrors: the Roaring Twenties
Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich
Upcoming 2020

In light of recent developments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), exhibitions, events and talks are subject to change.

From Josephine Baker to Thomas Ruff
The 1920s were a decade of both progression and backlash. At no time in the 20th century was the desire for change more intense. Urban visions were created and cities grew at breakneck speed.

The exhibition travels to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao after it closes in Zurich.

Link

Black Album / White Cube. A Journey into Art and Music
Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam
June 20, 2020–January 10, 2021

In light of recent developments regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), exhibitions, events and talks are subject to change.

Music rules! In the exhibition Black Album / White Cube at Kunsthal Rotterdam 35 internationally renowned artists and musicians present almost 200 works of contemporary art – multimedia installations, sculptures, videos and paintings. The exhibition reveals what happens when the worlds of art and pop music meet.

Link
Thomas Ruff
Radenko Milak
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Press

From Negatives to Pixels: Alternative Histories at the V&A’s Photography Centre
Frieze, review by Laurie Taylor, October 12, 2018

Der Geruch des Weltalls
Carta 2020, interview by Kilian Kirchgeßner, 2018

Thomas Ruff Sprüth Magers
Artforum International, review by Jens Asthoff, November 2017

The dizzying world of Thomas Ruff
The New York Times International Edition, review by Andrew Dickson, October 7–8, 2017

I Don’t Really Care About the Distinction Between Black and White and Colour Anymore
Modern Matter, interview by Michele Robecchi, Autumn/ Winter, 2017

An interview with the artist Thomas Ruff
Financial Times, interview by Liz Jobey, September 15, 2017

Thomas Ruff’s vintage photos of forgotten Hollywood actresses
CNN Style, review by Clive Martin, July 5, 2017

Ruff Intents & Purposes
Elephant, article by Gemma Padley, Spring 2017

Thomas Ruff
Die Dame, 2017

Thomas Ruff in Time and Space
Interview, interview by Emily McDermott, April 5, 2016

Thomas Ruff Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
Frieze, review by Noemi Smolik, February 19, 2015

Thomas Ruff: Zycles and Cassini
Eikon, article by Alexandra Matzner, 2010

Surface tension
Tate Arts and Culture, essay by Viviane Rehberg, June 1, 2003

Biography

Thomas Ruff (*1958, Zell am Harmersbach) lives and works in Dusseldorf. Selected solo exhibitions include the K20, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (2020), the National Portrait Gallery; Whitechapel Gallery, London (2017), the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2016), S.M.A.K., Ghent, which travelled to the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf (both 2014) and the Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012). In 2017 Thomas Ruff’s exhibition New Works was exhibited at the Gallery Sprüth Magers, Berlin. Recently his work was on view at group shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2019), the Tate Modern, London (2018) and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2018). In 2020 Thomas Ruff will be part of the group show Smoke and Mirrors: the roaring twenties at the Kunsthaus Zurich, which will be travelling to the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

Education
1977–85 Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf (class Prof. Bernd Becher)
Teaching
2000–06 Professor at Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2016 Artist of the Year, American Friends of the Israel Museum (AFIM), New York
2011 PhotoEspaña 2011 Award, Madrid
2006 International Center of Photography Infinity Award, New York
2003 Hans-Thoma-Preis, Hans-Thoma-Museum, Bernau
Public Collections
A4 Art Museum, Chengdu
Arario Museum, Seoul
Art Institute of Chicago
The Broad, Los Angeles
Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art
Dallas Museum of Art
Fondation Cartier pour l´art contemporain, Paris
Fotomuseum Winterthur
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum, Krefeld
Kunsthalle Bremen
Kunstmuseum Basel
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein–Westfalen, Dusseldorf
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Moderna Museet Stockholm
Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The National Museum of Art, Osaka
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
The National Museum of Photography, Copenhagen
Philadelphia Museum of Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent
Tate, London
Victoria and Albert Museum, London