“Nothing comparable comes to my mind” says Candida Höfer after working on a series on the epic Elbphilharmonie concert hall by Herzog & de Meuron
As one of the leading fine art photographers from Germany, Candida Höfer is famous for a deadpan approach documenting architecture. She studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art in the early 1980s along with Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, all influenced by professors Bernd and Hilla Becher and the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. Höfer’s photographs of grand theatres, libraries, opera houses and Palladian palaces are well-known, but contemporary buildings have rarely featured in her work.
Höfer’s recent project on the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, stands out in her wide oeuvre for the subject matter. It is the most notorious contemporary building erected in Europe, which ran three times over budget, and is now the symbol of Hamburg’s cultural ambitions. Comparable to the Guggenheim-effect, it has drawn global attention and ultimately aims to transform the dockland area on the Elbe river. When invited to document it, Höfer couldn’t refuse, “I have lived in Hamburg for a while. I was curious and when the opportunity came I had to take it”, Höfer described the commission via email.
As a result, twenty two large scale images exhibited at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg show the building from the basement to the rooftop, revealing its scale and majestic proportions in great detail. Her cool, meticulous approach frames the spaces with a controlled gaze. Through a career spanning almost forty years, Höfer’s detached objectiveness towards her subjects is evident in the new series. As observer and connoisseur I wonder if she could see any connection between the concert hall and any previous architectural movement. “There is really nothing comparable that comes to my mind”, Höfer affirms.
Delayed by six years, Herzog & de Meuron had to dig deep to complete such a project. With the old brick warehouse that remains below it, the concert hall rises 26 stories high, providing impressive spatial drama. Höfer’s interest in space plays with humanist ideals: archives, knowledge and cultural production, usually focusing on interiors. “Occasionally – as indeed in this case – I also do exteriors. Less because of the building itself, but because of its context”. The high-tech design of Elbphilharmonie is in total contrast to spaces previously observed through Höfer’s lens. “The character for me is a tension between the function that is ascribed to the space and the individuality with which it meets its obligations.”
The “ElbPhilharmonie Revisited” exhibition will be at Deichtorhallen, Hamburg until May 1st.
Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle is exhibiting two of them in their current group show with Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth.