Review (of sorts): Thomas Ruff at Zwirner and Richard Misrach at Pace Wildenstein


Exhibition Reviews


There is a sign right at the entrance of Pace Wildenstein gallery that tells you that you are not allowed to take any photos of Richard Misrach’s show. I forgot the exact words, if I remember correctly it’s for copyright reasons. So I only have an installation shot of Ruff’s show at David Zwirner gallery (click on the image for a much larger version).

The press release of Misrach’s show says the following: “Misrach’s newest pictures - the majority of which are made entirely without film - mark a radical shift from his past work and herald a new era in photography’s history.” That’s some bold statement to make, that a photographer’s work might “herald a new era in photography’s history.” Also, this is 2010, and I do remember quite a few shows where photographers have investigated digital photography and its implications - for example, a certain Thomas Ruff. That new era doesn’t feel so new to me any more.

The juxtaposition of Misrach’s and Ruff’s shows, just a few blocks apart, in two very prestigious galleries - I feel they need to be taken together, viewed together. Again, given the date, they actually both feel conceptually a bit thin to me, Misrach’s way thinner than Ruff’s, though.

To invert a digital (“positive”) image (Misrach) doesn’t strike me as particularly breathtaking. It is true, some of the results are quite nice, maybe slightly surprising and also a bit decorative. But I could never figure out what else I was going to take from this. Mind you, if I had never seen any work by Thomas Ruff (or anybody else working with digital images) I probably would have been somewhat impressed.

In contrast, Ruff was pushing the boundaries a teeny little bit. Or maybe not. His show contains NASA images that he added colour to. I didn’t think I would like those (remember, I’m an astronomer), but they were all very beautiful. Given we’re used to seeing astronomy images (since the Hubble people need to indirectly remind us why NASA needs to get funded), Ruff’s look different and a bit strange, and they made the objects look truly outerworldly. They’re way more beautiful than I had expected. The larger images in the show were all produced using some mathematical formulae on computers… What can I say? They all look like cover images from the IDM records I used to listen to about ten years ago (IDM stands for “intelligent dance music”, even though it’s rather questionable whether it is intelligent, danceable or even music - think Autechre).

So I’ll admit, I ended up being somewhat puzzled by these shows. I applaud both artists’ willingness to push boundaries, though. However, they both seem to have missed that where they are pushing there are no boundaries to be moved any longer. I’m almost a bit reminded of Kraftwerk’s 1983 album Electric CafĂ©: What they had been doing years before was truly groundbreaking, but by 1983 they had been overtaken by others, and they seemed to sound a bit dated (gloriously so, though: Der Telefon Anruf, the original German version).