Diane Arbus, Boris Becker, Karl Blossfeldt, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Candida Höfer, Gabriele and Helmut Nothhelfer, Tata Ronkholz, Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander, Hugo and Karl Hugo Schmölz, Garry Winogrand, Piet Zwart—across generations, all these photographers continually followed themes over decades in their work. In the case of Sander, these series formed an atlas of People of the Twentieth Century, while Höfer has created an archive of public spaces and their codes of representation, and Blossfeldt catalogued the formal variety of fauna and flora. “Straight photography” brought together the varying reception of photography as artistic and documentary in a particular way.
This survey exhibition presents the mutual influence between German and American positions in the dense cultural landscape of the Rhineland from the 1960s to the 1990s. This is where the first photography galleries were located in the 1970s, which were enthusiastic supporters of August Sander, Florence Henri, Piet Zwart, and Karl Blossfeldt, as well as American photographers in the 1960s such as Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand, and popularized them by continually engaging with the public. At the same time, Bernd and Hilla Becher were highly influential through their teaching at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. And, not least, important solo and group exhibitions had a lasting impact on the reception. In the 1950s, L. Fritz Gruber showed August Sander in the Photokina photography shows. In 1976 the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf exhibited photographs by Walker Evans, and around the same time Klaus Honnef curated important group exhibitions of documentary photography at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn.
This documentary and artistic approach is presented and questioned in Doing the Document. Walker Evans did not describe his photographs as documentary, but spoke of a “documentary style.” In 1967 the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed works by Arbus, Friedlander, and Winogrand, all of whom are represented here, under the title “New Documents.” Where does the document end and the artistic gesture begin? This is a question that has always been debated in the history of photography and must also be renegotiated today in these post-factual times amid the increasing aestheticization of archival and documentary materials in contemporary art. The exhibition title Doing the Document deliberately dispenses with the supposed opposition between the creative and the documentary in order to explore the oft-cited “crisis of representation” in the work of twenty photographers and their reception.
This exhibition is the result of a donation of more than 200 works by German and American photographers from the Bartenbach family in Cologne, which recently expanded the collection of the Museum Ludwig substantially. In addition to valuable groups of photographs ranging from the early twentieth century to the present, the Bartenbach Collection also contains source materials that will undergo a scholarly review for the first time as part of the exhibition. Along with the historical review of the collection, the donors will also be recognized. The collectors’ commitment is characterized in particular by the fact that, rather than focusing on selecting individual photographs, they compiled rich and varied collections of works by individual, internationally renowned artists. Their interest in the work of selected photographers is reflected in extensive series of works that highlight the wide-ranging facets of individual artists. The donation is an outstanding addition to the photography collection at the Museum Ludwig, since it fills gaps as well as strengthens and expands existing focuses. This will be presented in detail in the German-English publication, while the exhibition focuses entirely on the donation.