November 11, 2008By Heidi EllisonArchive

Serious Series

“The Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar II” (2004) by Cadida Höfer. © ADAGP, Paris 2008

The walls of Paris museums and galleries are plastered with photos during the biannual Mois de la Photo (Oct. 27-Nov. 30), a month-long celebration of the art form, which is still trying to prove its legitimacy more than a century and a half after its invention.

Anyone interested in the recent history of photography will not want to miss “Objectivités: La Photographie à Düsseldorf” at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which offers an extremely interesting look at the beginnings and evolution of the influential movement associated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf in the 1960s, with works by the school’s professors, students and followers, including Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Lothar Baumgarten and Katharina Sieverding.

The idea was to observe mundane reality with a “neutral” eye, with no gimmicks. The early adherents of the movement worked in inventory-like series, grouping images of like objects – the Bechers’ well-known black-and-white series of water towers, abandoned houses or industrial buildings are the ultimate examples. The resulting images have a cold, austere beauty; they are very still and very, very serious.

It comes as a relief, then, as the show continues and the movement’s adherents start breaking away from its severe strictures, introducing wow effects with lush color and large formats, as in Candida Höfer’s incredibly detailed monumental interiors, which are positively captivating in spite of their emptiness and lack of human life; Axel Hütte’s sumptuous cityscapes made with long exposures at night; Andreas Gursky’s disorienting manipulations of famous landmarks like Chartres Cathedral; or Thomas Struth’s 3D-effect images of forests (Struth is one of the photographers whose evolution can be traced through images dating from between 1978 and 2005, ranging from empty streets in black and white to empty forests in color).

Some of the artists even introduce – heaven forbid! – human beings into their images. In one of the more recent works – Beat Streuli’s “Rue Neuve 08” slide show, made this year – the artist shoots passersby on the street without their knowledge, creating a sort of inventory of people rather than buildings, objects or landscapes.

The show ends with more experimental works: Thomas Ruff pixelates images into fascinating abstractions, for example, while Jörg Sass creates an interactive piece for which visitors choose a theme for an exhibition and the museum guards hang a show for them.

Heidi Ellison

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: 11, avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris. Métro: Alma-Marceau or Iéna. Tel.: 01 53 67 40 00. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thursday until 10 p.m.). Closed on public holidays. Admission: €5.00. Through January 4. www.mam.paris.fr © 2008 Paris Update

© 2009 Paris Update

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