PRINT April 1991


WHEN THOMAS RUFF was introduced as an “up-and-coming” artist at Art Cologne in 1987, the 150th birthday of photography was approaching, with all its accompanying foofaraw. The interest in Ruff at such a time was both curious and appropriate, since his work retrospectively invalidates a fundamental notion about photography throughout its history: the idea of its documentary “reality.” In the photograph, Ruff shows, we are confronted by a second-, third-, indeed nth-hand kind of reality, a reality—whatever that means—fundamentally challenged; or, alternatively, by an utterly absolute reality, the reality of art, where the only presence is the image itself. Both subtly and powerfully, this view of art as the inevitable endpoint of photography’s unquenchable flood of images finds cool but seductive expression in Ruff’s work.

Ruff’s ongoing oeuvre comprises four groups of images—portraits,

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