The works on view come from three different subject matter series, with a mix of traditional typologies (one image per location) and other works which combine multiple perspectives of a single structure or site. For each series, the number of typologies, their makeup (number of prints), and the overall dimensions are provided below:
6 nine image typologies, each sized 56x68
1 two image typology, sized 37x22
2 four image typologies, each sized 38x46 (or reverse)
3 six image typologies, each sized 37x55
2 eight image typologies, each sized 38x76
2 nine image typologies,each sized 68x55
1 two image typology, sized 22x41
5 three image typologies, each sized 22x64 or 38x42
5 four image typologies, each sized 38x46 (or reverse)
1 fifteen image typology, sized 68x94
Comments/Context: What struck me most about the new show of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher at Sonnabend is something I really should have realized a very long time ago. Drag your hand across the volumes of their work on our library shelves and the idea starts to take hold: gas tanks, water towers, blast furnaces, framework houses, industrial facades, coal mine tipples, mineheads, and even a few industrial landscapes. To gather enough pictures to make their signature typologies, to find half a dozen or a dozen structures which exhibit the same underlying architectural forms so they can be grouped together for comparison, the sheer vastness of their artistic effort has to have been truly staggering. Across forty years and countless miles, they built up a vernacular archive like no other. And here we have a show of coal bunkers and stone works (with their own architectural idiosyncrasies), plus some more industrial facades, evidence that the archive was even bigger than we had assumed.
The large typologies of industrial facades in the entry gallery will feel the most familiar to Becher-philes. They use boxy factories and warehouses to highlight stepped roof lines in brick, curved barrel roofs, arched windows, rectangular boxes with repeating window patterns, peaked roofs with vertical striping, and buildings decorated with external pipes running horizontally. The theme and variation style of the typology structure focuses crisp attention on these overlooked details.
While traditional typologies have also been employed for the coal bunkers and stoneworks, with their boxy squared off forms, train tracks running underneath, angled chutes/conveyors, and cylindrical holding areas, the Bechers also used an organizational form called the "development" that instead collects multiple views of the same structure into one stand alone architectural portrait. Some of the images are frontal (on each side) while others use angled perspectives. The effect is almost like a stop motion circular panorama, where the viewer moves around the site to see the building from every vantage point. These works are not collections of like objects, but an in-depth examination of one place. The Bechers' rigid conceptual approach still comes through, but the intimate attention being paid somehow seems more intense. Trapezoidal shapes, arched concrete, graduated angled roof lines, wood siding in vertical and horizontal directions, these all seem more like personality traits of an individual rather than commonalities of a group. When hung together in a room, these "developments" tell a very different story about the evolution of functional motifs than the typologies; they provide a closer investigation of both similarities to and deviations from a common form, and they seem to imply both cross pollination of architectural ideas as well as elemental, universal styles that evolve strictly from local usage.
So for those of you who may think you have already seen everything the Bechers had to offer, this show brings together both lesser known subject matter and an unexpected conceptual twist on their signature typology. As always, the work is exquisitely crafted and meticulously considered; what I appreciated here was the sense of smart freshness that seemed to reanimate their much celebrated and highly influential photographic approach.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows, and have stayed consistent (without price escalation) over the past few years. The works are priced based on the number of prints in the typology. As such:
2 image typologies: $26000
3 image typologies: $39000
4 image typologies: $52000
6 image typologies: $78000
8 image typologies: $104000
9 image typologies: $117000
15 image typologies: $195000
The Bechers' work is now consistently available at auction, in every season and every geography. Prices for single images have ranged from roughly $3000 to $35000 in recent years; typologies have ranged between roughly $25000 to $180000 during that same time.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
- Museum Collections: MoMA (here), Tate (here), Met (here), Getty (here), Guggenheim (here), Walker (here)