I like Thomas Ruff: Thomas Ruff is just one of those artists; finishing the Kunstakademie on the astral waistcoat tail of Joseph Beuys, authentically taught by the Bechers, a peer of Thomas Struth - a stay in Paris and then to Gagosian by way of Zwirner, White Cube and all stations between NYC via La Biennale di Venezia. Here exposing a model career voyage, as exponential as seamless.
My take on this extremely impressive body of work at Gagosian is that it offers us a rather bleak (I guess the clue is in the show's title) and possibly even pre-apocalyptic vision of the end of nature; nature irreversibly irradiated and eradicated. But, if you'll forgive the pun, this is not all negative; whilst Ruff talks somewhat nostalgically about the loss of silver and non-silver photography, this show presents the
inter-neg as the final realisation and resolution of the work- and it does this very effectively.
Of course for anyone who recalls the acetic whiff and infra-red glow of wet photography in their bathroom or home studio with a degree of post-creative tristesse, there will be a poignancy if only around the recollections of the magical, near-alchemy amalgamation of using film and paper and light and chemistry. Thus, the anticipation of what a negative would bring.
Ruff apparently takes his inspiration from the first stages of this magic, exemplified by the irresistibly curled celluloid ribbons that festoon a wash line. Ruff's works in this show hark back to a nostalgic moment and view of photography, but through the exquisitely printed negatives of flora and fauna, he cleverly presents it back to us through retrospective; retrofitted and innovation. The demise of nature parallels the demise of chemical photography. Neat. You might think.
Don't get me wrong, I love the inverted images in this show, for their poetry, their poignancy, their execution and their somewhat hallucinogenic vision of a future where we have negated our natural world.
(Of course), none of the above constitutes a great selling spin for the work and, in Gagosian's super efficient, commission-rich retail emporia, is not a catchy line for their very smooth sales teams. I suppose this is where I - as an audience - begin to sense some parallax between the work (beautiful, melancholic), the title (fitting) and the words the gallery has used to represent it (descriptive/symptomatic). You see there is more to this show than innovation in photography, and the oddly vestigial title of the show appears at odds with the relatively benign press release.
The nexus between artist narrative and dealer hyperbole is frequently uneasy - and with Gagosian at the very top of the market food chain, the symbiosis between artistic audacity and entrepreneurial endeavor is sure to be tested at some point. As much as I enjoyed this work, and the rather darker readings that I drew from the title and imagery, I came away wondering if the sales patter hadn't triumphed over the artist's intended reception for the work on this occasion?
In summary: Good show, shame about the corporate interpretation.