Goetz Collection is a large, horizontally oriented photograph depicting the building that houses the private collection of contemporary art of the same name located in Munich, Germany. The structure is shown from the front and fills most of the frame, with a stretch of pale blue sky visible above it and a band of green grass below it that extends into the foreground of the scene, while to the left and right of the building are clusters of tall trees. The muted grey and beige tones of the building’s stone and glass frontage are punctuated by two small windowed areas at the bottom left, through which can be seen a large bookshelf and a table and chairs. Tate’s version of this photograph is numbered three in an edition of four.
This work was made by the German photographer Thomas Ruff in 1997 when he was living and working in Düsseldorf, Germany. To create it, Ruff photographed the museum, retouched the image to remove a small group of trees from the grassy area in the foreground and printed it on resin-coated paper. It is one of several photographs taken by Ruff that feature buildings designed and constructed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, a collaboration that began in 1990 when Herzog & de Meuron invited Ruff to photograph their newly designed Ricola-Europe factory for the fifth Venice Architecture Biennale in 1991 (see Ricola Laufen 1992, Ricola Collection, Laufen). The Goetz Collection collaboration was initiated by Ruff’s dealer, Peter Blum, and the image was first displayed along with six other photographs in the exhibition Architectures of Herzog & De Meuron, Photographed by Thomas Ruff at Peter Blum Gallery, New York, from June to September 1994.
Ruff was among a generation of artists including Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky who studied under the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the 1970s and 1980s. The work made by artists of this generation reflected the documentary objectivity – the use of even lighting, frontal presentation and the repetitive, serial format for exploring a subject – that characterised the Bechers’ photographs of buildings and industrial machinery. This style was itself influenced by the 1920s German realist tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit or ‘New Objectivity’ painting and photography. In 1987–91 Ruff created the series Häuser (Houses): photographs of nondescript private and public buildings that had been erected in German cities during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, each of which he had retouched to remove people, signs, lampposts and open windows. Ruff used a similarly muted and repetitious style for a near-simultaneous series of portraits that he made in 1986–91 (see, for instance, Portrait 1986 (Stoya) 1986, Tate P78091), and stated in an interview in 2009 that he retouched the photographs of buildings because he had less control over their appearance than that of sitters photographed in the studio (see Kunsthalle Wien 2009, p.232).
In the same interview in 2009 Ruff discussed his transition from photographing anonymous buildings in the Häuser series to depicting well-known structures by Herzog & de Meuron and other architects:
During my preoccupation with the Häuser series, I thought I could not photograph any ‘highbrow’ architecture. I thought that whatever was in the picture would be more important than the image itself. Not until I had a made a whole range of other series, using a very wide variety of photographic techniques, did I find a way to make an image rather than a document of significant architecture such as that done by Herzog & de Meuron and Mies van der Rohe.
(Ruff in Kunsthalle Wien 2009, p.234.)
The curator Maximilian Geymüller has suggested that Herzog & de Meuron’s buildings lend themselves to Ruff’s objective photographic style not only due to the clarity and linearity of their design, but in the way in which their buildings, like Ruff’s photographs, ‘oscillate between illusionist and flat’ compositions (Geymüller in Kunsthalle Wien 2009, p.94). Furthermore, in the book that was published to accompany the exhibition at Peter Blum Gallery in 1994, Jacques Herzog stated that the firm’s architectural approach ‘has so much to do with perception’ and that ‘Our approach defined the building and now we want an outsider’s specific and a personal view of it … [Ruff] builds up an architecture of his own that is juxtaposed with ours. That interests us.’ (Herzog in Peter Blum Editions and Swiss Institute 1994, p.28.)
Goetz Collection was acquired by Tate in 1997 during the construction period for Tate Modern, which was designed by Herzog & de Meuron and opened in 2000.
Architectures of Herzog & de Meuron: Portraits by Thomas Ruff, Peter Blum Editions and Swiss Institute, New York 1994, reproduced.
Matthias Winzen (ed.), Thomas Ruff: 1979 to the Present, New York 2003, p.223, reproduced p.223.
Thomas Ruff: Surfaces, Depths, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna 2009, p.94.
Supported by Christie’s.