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Dark Matter: Thomas Ruff, James Welling at Kunsthalle Bielefeld

Opening: November 5, 6:30pm

Artist talk: November 6, 3pm, with Thomas Ruff, James Welling and Christina Végh.

November 5, 2022–March 5, 2023

Dark Matter: Thomas Ruff, James Welling will be on display at Kunsthalle Bielefeld from November 5, 2022, through March 5, 2023.

We make observations about our surroundings depending on how we perceive it, how we can express it, and how we can comprehend it in words and visuals. And yet, dark matter, an invisible element that we cannot see, makes up around 80% of the universe’s matter. Two artists are brought together in Dark Matter: Thomas Ruff, James Welling to demonstrate how the photographic picture is not always what it purports to be. James Welling (born 1951) and Thomas Ruff (born 1958) are engaged in photographic images that serve purposes beyond simple representation.

Both photographers explore the limitations of sight, its connections to the photographic equipment, and how photographic images shape how we perceive the world through their conceptual approaches to photography.

James Welling, a student of John Baldessari at CalArts in Los Angeles, developed an artistic practice in a setting known as the “Post Studio” with conceptual and institutionally critical approaches, in contrast to Thomas Ruff, who studied under Hilla and Bernd Becher at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. He just picked up a camera on his own after graduating and has since created a varied, hybrid photographic style that also incorporates aspects of painting and narrative.

Ruff and Welling belong to the same generation that emerged from the “Appropriation Art” movement that followed the developing discourse on media culture in the 1970s. In the latter, pre-existing, primarily photographic images are appropriated artistically in ways that have never before had an impact on “mass society.”

Incorporating a scientific-analytical methodology with the photographic medium, Thomas Welling and James Ruff’s work is characterized by experimentation and a radical stylistic diversity that knows neither technical or aesthetic bounds: They function both with and without a camera, in analog and digital, color and black and white. Ruff and Welling frequently deal with the built environment around them, even though a photograph that goes beyond its representational function could not be more from obviously designed architecture.

The exhibition’s main focus is the aesthetic investigation of iconic and nameless architecture, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the works of both artists and Philip Johnson in Welling’s, in light of the forthcoming reconstruction and expansion of Kunsthalle Bielefeld.

A number of subject contrasts between the two artists are highlighted in the exhibition. This relates to abstraction and autonomy in photographic images, as well as the pursuit of “visual emptiness” (Ruff) or “the image that you do not comprehend and do not remember, but that nonetheless sits bright and clear before you” (Welling). These sometimes detached and seemingly objective images contain traces of subjective memory as well as social memory. In the digital age, questions about our relationship to photographic images are still relevant.

Curators: Christina Végh, Felicitas von Richthofen

Funding for the exhibition is provided by the Stiftung der Sparkasse Bielefeld and LWL-Kulturstiftung.

Kunsthalle Bielefeld
Artur-Ladebeck-Straße 5
33602 Bielefeld
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 11am–6pm,
Wednesday 11am–9pm,
Saturday 10am–6pm

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