Thomas Ruff - Photographs Evening Sale New York Wednesday, April 1, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    David Zwirner, New York

  • Literature

    Winzen, Thomas Ruff: 1979 to the Present, pl. STE 1.28

  • Catalogue Essay

    Thomas Ruff studied photography (1977-1985) at the Düsseldorf Art Academy and was a student of Bernd Becher, who in collaboration with his wife Hilla Becher, had developed a method of conceptual serial photography. During his studies in Düsseldorf, Ruff created his initial series photographing typical German living quarters. This first body of work was in color and printed on standard sized photographic paper, as was his next series of portraits of friends and school acquaintances. Both were built upon the modernist tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, conceptualized by being in series and contemporized by color. What elevated Ruff’s photography-based vision onto the contemporary art market in the late 1980s was his reprinting of the portraits onto huge rolls of photographic paper then framing them so that they hung comfortably alongside paintings - adding an awe-inspiring presence to his coolly detached or objective images. With Ruff’s addition of size - closely followed by his fellow students Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky - viewers began looking at photographs as they had never looked before.

    In the Sterne or Stars series (1989 -1992) Ruff took the objectivity of documentation in photography into a dialogue about reality and art. He had started this conversation with his earlier large and seemingly dispassionate portraits and his cool depictions of Post-War buildings in Germany. But in the Sterne series Ruff took it further by employing negatives that he himself did not make. Instead he used high-resolution (29 x 29cm) negatives that he had obtained from the archives of the European Southern Observatory – which he cropped to his own artistic desires and had printed in a lab in Düsseldorf to his specifics. Ruff “repositioned” these negatives of the night sky above Chile to create his own art – utilizing them as a tool (such as paint or paper) with which to build a work of art. This transformation from scientific document to art is experienced in Sterne 23 h 39m/-55˚ where a seemingly objective and specific image is experienced as abstracted beauty.

    Ruff’s Sterne 23 h 39m/-55˚ thrills us with its large-scale vista of a starry night sky. Yet what lingers is not the substance of the subject matter, but rather the beauty of its distance. This demandingly gorgeous picture does not bring us closer to its subject matter but instead face-to-face with the medium’s inherent dichotomy: photography’s bait-and-switch with reality. What looks to be a very real and familiar subject is in fact a photograph – a work of art. This contrariety of existence in photography – and our tendency to invert what we think we see with what is - is reinforced by subject matter of Sterne 23 h 39m/-55˚. For when we look at a star in the night sky, we are not seeing the actual star itself - which science tells us no longer exists - but rather we are seeing ancient traces of light traveling across time and space. And that too is what a photograph is: light traces on paper of something that is no longer there.


Sterne 23h 39m/-55°

Chromogenic print, face-mounted to Plexiglas.
78 1/2 x 52 3/4 in. (199.4 x 134 cm)
Overall 101 3/4 x 73 1/2 in. (258.4 x 186.7 cm)

Signed, titled, dated and numbered 2/2 in pencil on the backing board.

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $112,500

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Shlomi Rabi
Head of Sale, New York

General Enquiries:
+1 212 940 1245

Photographs Evening Sale

New York 1 April 2015 6pm