Thomas Ruff - Photographs New York Thursday, October 7, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Thomas Ruff’s portrait of M. Roeser comes from a series of portraits that brought Ruff to international recognition in the late 1980s. Ruff started making portraits in 1981 as a student who studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Staatlichen Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf along with Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Struth. “The idea was to make portraits of my friends and colleagues at the art academy and I wanted to treat them all the same way: everybody was unique but, at the same time, no one is more important than the others. Our heroes as students were the minimal and conceptual artists, but at that time the portrait had almost disappeared from this part of contemporary art, so I wanted to try a new minimalistic contemporary portrait.”


    Portrait (M. Roeser) was taken in Ruff’s studio with a large format camera. Between 1981-1985, Ruff made his portraits as 8 X 10 inch contact prints. In 1986, he started enlarging them to 7 x 5 feet. As with the other portraits in the series, M. Roeser is frontal facing and has no obvious expression. The photograph is detailed, precise almost forensic. When seen for the first time in the late 80s early 90s, Ruff’s portraits were mind blowing in their cool detached style - yet very present to the point of causing discomfort due to their monumental size. Viewers were confounded by their ability to see the most minute detail of the subject, yet know nothing beyond the surface of the print.


    The impact of Ruff ‘s large scale color portraits on the art world was immediate and resounding. Though the acceptance of photography as art was on the rise since the mid 1970s, Ruff’s experimental approach to portraiture as an investigation into the medium itself, and his radical use of color combined with monumental scale allowed for galleries and museums to present photography alongside painting in the cavernous Kunst halls of the late 20th Century. In 2001 another print from the same edition of Portrait (M. Roeser), 1999 was purchased by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Thomas Ruff’s investigation into a “new minimalistic contemporary portrait” and the overwhelming physical presence of his large scale portraits had led the re-engagement of the Contemporary art world into the medium of photography.

    • Provenance

      David Zwirner, New York
      Private Collection, New York


Portrait (M. Roeser)

Chromogenic print, face-mounted to Plexiglas.
63 1/8 x 47 5/8 in. (160.3 x 121 cm)
Overall 83 x 65 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (210.8 x 166.4 x 3.8 cm)

Signed, dated and numbered 2/4 in pencil on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for $27,720

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department
+1 212 940 1225


Vanessa Hallett
Deputy Chairwoman, Americas and Worldwide Head of Photographs
+1 212 940 1243


New York Auction 7 October 2021