PRINT Summer 2000


Thomas Ruff

WHEN THOMAS RUFF’S NEW IMAGES of Mies van der Rohe’s Haus Lange and Haus Esters go on view in the newly refurbished Krefeld villas this June, the German photographer will help reinaugurate a pair of structures almost as important for the recent history of art as for architecture. Closed for more than two years to accommodate badly needed renovations, the Rhineland buildings boast an exhibition history that includes not only first institutional shows by the likes of Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, and Marcel Duchamp but appearances by everyone from Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter to Bruce Nauman and Rosemarie Trockel. Originally designed as homes for textile magnates Hermann Lange and Josef Esters, both of whom were avid collectors of modern art, Haus Lange and Haus Esters were acquired by Krefeld’s Kaiser Wilhelm Museum (in 1955 and 1981, respectively) and have since served as noted museums in this city northwest of Düsseldorf.

Mies, of course, is justly celebrated for his large-scale museum commissions of the ’50s and ’60s, signature projects including Berlin’s Neuenationalgalerie and the annexes of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. What is less known is that the doyen of modern design had already chalked up a significant track record when it came to building with art in mind. The studio he designed for Emil Nolde in 1929 may never have progressed beyond blueprints, but the Krefeld residences, built between 1928 and 1930, attest to the architect’s early engagement with the fine arts. If Mies gave the art world some of its most memorable buildings over the course of his career, curator Julian Heynen’s choice for the first exhibition in the renovated landmarks is auspicious: With Ruff, he’s picked an artist who has lately returned the favor.

Not only are Ruff’s images of the Krefeld homes part of a larger project by the photographer honoring the legacy of Mies, but the shows come on the heels of another, less mediated engagement with architecture: his facade for the Eberswalde Technical School library, designed by the Swiss architectural duo Herzog & de Meuron (whose plant for Tate Modern opened to much fanfare this spring in London). A spectacular collaboration, the school is a severe, rectangular building in Eberswalde, a town about thirty miles north of Berlin. Ruff provided the images for the more than 1,000 glass and concrete plates that decorate the library’s exterior walls. Covered with bands of repeated images applied through an innovative silk-screening technique, the plates draw on a range of sources from Renaissance paintings to photographs of modern architecture and Berlin street scenes.

Ruff’s efforts in Krefeld are only slightly more traditional. The centerpieces of the show, entitled “LMVDR,” will include around thirty large-format photographs taken by Ruff of the Barcelona Pavilion and Haus Tugendhat in the Czech city of Brno as well as the two Krefeld houses. At least some of the photos will be presented in “stereoscopic vitrines,” glass boxes that make the pictures appear three-dimensional. The photographs are both like and unlike Ruff’s previous work, which was the subject of a 1987 survey at Haus Esters. If they deviate from the series of portraits and celestial bodies for which he is most known, they do recall his earlier photographs of drab industrial and domestic architecture in Germany. The look of the images—mostly frontal views that seem to offer themselves up in a single glance—is also familiar. It’s only on close examination that the digital manipulations become apparent, which accounts for the photos’ slightly-out-of-whack atmosphere. Ruff’s Haus Esters and Haus Lange also capture the surrounding trees and gardens, to which Mies paid much attention.

The reopening marks the first time the garden house behind Haus Esters has been utilized as an exhibition site. The inaugural show is by Hannelore Reuen, Gregor Schneider’s mysterious, never-before-seen fellow inhabitant of Dead House ur, 1985– [see “Interiority Complex,” p. 142]. It’s a good bet that the garden house, too, will have undergone a structural metamorphosis, given Schneider’s history of architectural tinkering—though it seems unlikely that the alterations will be in the spirit of Mies. What is certain is that the intervention will constitute another highlight in the exhibition history of these two tradition-steeped houses.

Yilmaz Dziewior is a Cologne-based critic.

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.