Espacios Urbanos

A view onto the city. (Fragment)
by: Ludovico Pratesi

(…) The contemporary global image has placed the city in pole position, the perfect mirror of world society, where movement has replaced stability.

(…) The world is dominated by multinational corporations, protagonists of global bigness, that confirm the superstars in the list of the new monuments. Disney, Sony, Prada, Armani, Gehry’s Guggheneim, Koolhass, Hadid, Piano, Herzog & De Meuron.” The city-world is the ideal, the ideology of the globalized system, the idea that tomorrow everything will move smoothly.” (9) On the other hand, the megalopolis represents the world with all its contradictions. This world is based on overlapping, on the juxtaposition of rich and poor, violence and tolerance, centres and suburbs, residential neighborhoods and slums, citizens and illegal immigrants, young and old. “The city-world is the place where all the tensions are channelled,” concludes Augè.

(…) Stabbed in the heart, the megalopolis of the twenty-first century must now learn to face the complexity of globalization, which no longer permits arrogance and indifference, but instead demands awareness and the taking of responsibility.

Beyond the Lens

(…) If anthropologists, sociologists, architects, urban planners ad philosophers have been involved in the last decade in analysing the transformation of the contemporary city from their many and varied points of view, the same issues are addressed by a group of German contemporary artists who express themselves through the language of photography, in order to cast an analytical eye on the urban evolution in the last forty years. Through the works of the five artists invited to participate in this exhibition, Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer, Axel Hutte, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, emerges the artists’ understanding of urban space as a sum of social and symbolic stratifications situated on the border between reality and its representation. Through an apparently objective and ascetic approach, which in reality is analytical and interpretative, these artists have concentrated their research on the complex theme of relationships between the human being and the surrounding space, underlining the socio-cultural and anthropological implications. This approach takes as its point of departure the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher, considered the masters of the five artists, and known as the Dusseldorf School However, before briefly discussing the Dusseldorf School in order to underline both the common and the individual characteristics of each artist.

(…) Bernd and Hilla Becher began to work together in 1959, consolidating their ideas about photography during the 1960s in a series of exhibitions in German galleries and museums (…)

Anonymous Sculptures or Industrial Buildings

(…) Beginning in the late 1950s, the Bechers began to photograph abandoned industrial sites in the coal mining areas of Segerland and Ruhr, and then moving onto similar industrial buildings in Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Holland. The result is a cold and objective image, characterized by precision and an almost scientific attention to details without interpretation. This stylistic approach finds its primary references in 1920s German and American photography (…)

(…) “All that is superficial, narrative, emotional, organic and ephemeral is discarded. They demonstrate an oppressive view of industrial buildings, without movement, without energy, without fire, without vapour, without residue, without products and without workers. The Bechers’ photographs are immediately recognizable, and this does not surprise us given the absolute objectivity that characterises them” states Armin Zweite.1

(…) The spectator is presented with an archive of industrial monuments rigorously catalogued according to a strict and precise method, an authentic process of vision, that permits from the outset the works of the Bechers to fit into the definition of Conceptual Art, as pointed out by Carl Andre in 1972 in an article in Art Forum. 2

The Strategy of the Image: Beyond the Bechers

(…) The five artists basically follow the fundamental lessons of Bernd Becher, with some variations that however never distance them from the idea of photography intended as a document of reality, analysed conceptually and not descriptively.

(…) Candida Hofer dedicates herself to the daily life of the Turkish community in Germany, captured through a series of black and white images taken in various German cities, Thomas Struth documents the urban development of cities such as Dusseldorf, New York and Paris, capturing the space between two rows of buildings taken from the same point of view, and always void of human presence. Axel Hutte selects an urban space of deserted subway stations, such as in the work of Hermannplatsz (1979). Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff instead perceive from the very beginning the limits of Becher’s methodology, focusing on different themes of urbanism and architecture.

(…) Finally, one of the formal elements that characterizes the so-called Dusseldorf School is the large-format of the photographs, obtained by means of photographic techniques borrowed over the course of the 1980s from the advertising world and already experimented by various international artists such as Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman and Clegg & Guttmann. The principal motivation for this large format, a distinctive feature since the 1980s of the artists present in this exhibition, relates to their desire to confront themselves with the twentieth-century art historical movements, as for example Futurism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, where the work of art was considered a physical space into which the spectator was drawn.

(…) These artists considered photography on an equal level with painting, an approach which led them to gradually abandon the Bechers’, necessary, compositional rigor. Their artistic horizon is transformed into an extremely detailed visual landscape, where the presence of the contemporary city becomes an unbounded reservoir of cultural, social, political, anthropological, or simply aesthetic, resources.

* The text has been specially edited for this catalogue and it is being published for the first time. Translation from Italian: Silvio Mattoni.

1 Cfr. A. Zweite. Bernd e Hilla Becher: Proposition pour une façon de voir-10 Perspectives, in Bernd et Hilla Becher, catalogue of the exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, París, 2004, p. 8.

2 Cfr. C. Andre, “A note on Bernd and Hilla Becher”, Art Forum, December of 1972.


Born in Rome, 15 april 1961, lives in Rome. He has a BA in Law and a BA in History of Modern Art at the University of Rome. He writes art reviews for the newspaper La Repubblica. He wrote for the French newspaper Le Monde from 1994 to 2000. From 2002 to 2005 he was the Artistic Consultant for the city of Bari. Since December 2000, he is the Artistic Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Pesaro. Since 2009 he is curator for Palazzo Fabroni, a contemporary art museum in Pistoia (Tuscany). Since 2004 he is the artistic director of Fondazione Guastalla, based in Rome. From 1998 to 2008 he was professor of History of Contemporary Art at the University of Reggio Calabria. He has curated various exhibits of Italian and international artists such as: Candida Höfer, Giuseppe Penone, Enzo Cucchi, Tony Cragg, Marina Abramovic, Joseph Kosuth, John Cage, Domenico Bianchi, Mimmo Paladino, Cristiano Pintaldi, Francesco Gennari, Stefano Arienti, and Vedovamazzei. He is currently the president of the Italian section of AICA (International Association of Art Critics).

The historical importance in photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher. (Fragments)
by: Armin Zweite

(…) The artistic starts of the first generation of students from Becher’s class give the impression to be objective and cold in excess, and essentially raise one only thing: indifference.

(…) The fact that, with such distinctive signs, these photographers had operated in ways so entirely akin to the spirit of times appears clearly if we take a look beyond Düsseldorf. Imagine that, for the younger generation, the horizon changes completely around 1980. In retrospect, the 80’s appear as a kind of incubation period for all sort of revolutions, paradoxes, contradictions, disasters and implosions that we are still dealing with today, and that, with all evidence, we still continue to ignore the way to deal with them. What had initially being announced here and there in a completely sporadic way finishes with the collapse of the socialist social systems. (…)No matter how we turn things round, it is impossible not to note that the emancipation horizon was overshadowed and that the utopian ideas no longer exercised any stimulus, but on the contrary, they result suspicious.

(…) Against the backdrop of these trends outlined with ever greater clarity, it was inevitable that, after having received the certainly decisive stimulus of Bernd and Hilla Becher, students in the first generation would quickly derogate that reference to get to explore their own paths.

(…) The distance that these artists have taken with regard to the Bechers is reflected in the multiplicity of their topics, as well as in the fact that all of them (with the exception of Petra Wunderlich) work in colour. On the other hand, if the oeuvre of Bernd and Hilla Becher always suggests the historical character of photography and does never forget that it is a medium, the self-reference to photographic means plays a much stronger role, by contrast, in their students. In Ruff, who went further in this sense, reality seems to have past by so many specific filters and electronic processing, that the real can only be verified as a trace and specific reasons are perceived solely as ersatz, substitutes, such as if the optical signals had lost their referential character. It would not be possible to omit another differential trait, namely, the dimension of the images, which exceeds by far the regular size of photographs, and that can reach a length of 6 meters (and a proportional height). Such dimensions, which grew progressively since the end of the 80’s among artists in question, imply another perception and suggest a greater distance between the work and the spectator. Shortly, the distance between Bernd and Hilla Becher photographs and colour large-formats by Gursky, Struth, Ruff, Höfer, Hütte and many other artists from that circle seems so radical that, in the public perception, economy, rigor and silence are in risk of disappearing behind opulence, outrageousness and seduction.

(…) If the works of Gursky, Höfer, Hütte, Ruff and Struth met an important and durable echo, their success derives without any doubt from their themes. Instead of (…)), of complex and multiple representations, therefore difficult to read (…),these artists put at the forefront of their work equivalent matters, of course; but those matters appear as more cutter, more sweeping and less complex in spite of a manifest taste and pleasure for detail.

(…) The fact that digitalization techniques allow to reinforce certain aspects that seem to be important and modify, or even eliminate certain others, should be also considered. The work of Düsseldorf artists (not all of them, it is true) no longer authenticates reality, but fictionalizes it. The reality of the image enjoys a broad autonomy and must be viewed as an aesthetic reality, i.e. emancipated from the mode of representation. The veracity requirement, tied in its origins to the photographic media—namely, the imperative to be a document of reality—is being increasingly erased. On one hand, it is suggested to the viewer that the image reproduces something real. On the other, latent doubt regarding to the authenticity of what is represented is encouraged. On this background, it may be advisable to admit that the power of suggestion of the images by Gursky, Struth, Ruff and Höfer—but also by many other photographers from Düsseldorf—has favoured a broad and generally enthusiastic reception. There is no doubt that the ambition to aspire at the same range of painting is, at least, camouflaged behind it.

(…) In short, we cannot fail to note that what began and was carried out for the past four decades in Düsseldorf, and from that city into the field of contemporary photography, has a considerable scope, and is even likely to become of great historic significance.

(…) It was possible for young artists, therefore, to combine objectivity and imagination, balance calculation and experimentation, as well as cross the passage from analogical to digital photography, with everything that it implied. They dared to change radically the scale and embraced the large format. Thus, the concern about a self-reflection on the photographic media will have been merged with penetrating reasons to create consistent images, of a suggestive immediacy, which not only show us anything, but they have, in addition, the merit to prove themselves.

* Source: Armin Zweite, “Photografie et/comme art à Düsseldorf 1958-1976”, in Objectivitè-La photographie à Düsseldorf , exhibition catalogue, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, in collaboration with K20K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, October 4th 2008 – January 4th 2009, pp. 21-55. The original text in German was translated by Jean Torrent. Translated to English by Daniela Gutiérrez. [E.]


Armin Zweite and his family escaped to Flensburg in 1945. Betwen 1960 and 1976, he studied philosophy, History, Art History, Psicology and Germanicas in the University of Kiel.

The first graduates from Düsseldorf: Ruff, Hütte, Höfer, Struth and Gursky. (Fragment)
by: Valeria González

(…) The more conspicuous inheritance of the Bechers’ rigor occurs in a student, who, at the end, becomes independent of it in a very profound way: Thomas Ruff. As can be seen in his portraits, his approach to photography was clearly conceptual since the beginning. (…)Ruff has been the one who knew better how to adapt the legacy of his teachers to the postmodern lesson of his time: more than represent reality, image builds it. Each code, each device, each technology produces its own imaginary logic. An astronomical observatory, the infrared camera that sees in the dark, the photography press, the police records, the websites digitally compressed image: each set of work by the artist poses a consistency between the "toolbox" and the "style" of the resulting image. (…)Ruff´s oeuvre is the most varied and, however, the most systematic. (…)

(…) For the members of the School of Düsseldorf a photograph is not taken: is made, and the model of painting serves to make it important and convincing. The first relationship between photography and painting reached its peak circa 1900 with Pictorialism. Through the use of soft focus and chemical manipulations, photographers imitated the textural presence of the brushstroke. (…)The pictoric revitalization of the photograph in the hands of the young generation of Düsseldorf programmatically avoided this type of artisticity linked to the mysterious blur of the image and its transcendent contents. Among them, the only one that took this path was Axel Hütte. (…) When Hütte produces urban photographs, from the 90`s on, prefers the formal indeterminacy of an airly point of view and the light indeterminacy of a night shot.

(…) Candida Höfer translated the method requirement of her teachers to the iconographic oneness field. Since very early, and until today, she was devoted to photograph the interiors of public buildings with no people, preferably cultural institutions, such as theaters, auditoriums, museums, libraries. (…)Unlike some architectural images of Ruff or Gursky, digitally manipulated, the spaces shown by Höfer possess an effect of presence and immediate credibility. Höfer, as all her colleagues, has traveled incessantly, picking up in her vision the most diverse cities of globalized world.

(…) Thomas Struth was the first graduate from Bernd Becher`s class. (…)Encouraged by his teacher, he won a scholarship to travel to New York in 1978, and that experience led to a turning point in his work. In his new images of the city he abandoned the implementation of an aprioristic method and tried to find, for each take, a balance between the circumstantial cut and some compositional order. Probably influenced by the strong development of the street photography in North America, Struth added the Bressonian model to the conceptual inheritance from his teachers. (…)As most of his peers, Struth turned to color since 1980, and since 1989, to large-scale. By then, technical possibilities and economic resources were available to deal with the real demand of the art market. (…)

(…) Andreas Gursky was the last of the group in joining the Academy. (…)In 1981, he had known the work of Jeff Wall and had been extremely impressed.* But the more decisive turn in his work came in 1984. (…) Six months later Gursky noted, while copying the aerial view of a landscape, the presence of some people in diminutive size. From this optical unconscious, the artist derives a model of image (…)where the artist confronts the size of man with the impetuous dimension of the landscape (…)In the semantic level, this would be the relationship between the individual and the undifferentiated mass of which he is part in the postmodern social rituals. To achieve this hipervisibility, photographers have turned to the digital fusion of several negatives;(…)

* This paper has been written specially for the catalogue of the exhibition, and it is published for the first time. Translated into English by Daniela Gutierrez.

* It was on the occasion of the Westkunst exhibition organized by Kaspar Koenig in the State Museum in Cologne that same year. He also organized a series of workshops at the Academy coordinated by young artists of international renown.


Graduate in Art History at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). Teaches contemporary art at UBA, Instituto Universitario Nacional de Arte (IUNA), Universidad de Tres de Febrero (UNTREF) and Universidad Torcuato Di Tella (UTDT). UBACYT Researcher in Photography. Member of the Asociación Internacional de Críticos de Arte (AICA) and member of the Asociación Argentina de Críticos de Arte (AACA). Freelance writer at the local newspaper Página 12, Arts section. Has work in the Art Work Clinic Program at the Fundación Antorchas. Also worked in the “Intercampos” Program at Fundación Telefónica de Argentina. Since 1996 she has been working as independent curator. Edited the work of argentine photographers for PhotoEspaña Festival (Madrid, 2001) and Photoquai Festival (París, 2009). Jury for the Fondo Nacional de las Artes Grants (2005), among others. Wrote El pez, la bicicleta y la máquina de escribir, published by Ediciones Proa, and also many articles, book chapters and exhibition catalogues. Curator of the Casa del Bicentenario, that belongs to the Secretaría de Cultura de la Nación.

Visions of the City. (Fragment)
by: Paolo Perulli

(…) Because the word “world” means, in etymological terms, that mundus or circular pit excavated in the center of the city (…)guaranteeing their sacred value. That world supplied a center and a meaning to all individual and social activity.

(…)It is precisely the opposite of what we are doing today, with the formless growth which we imprint upon the urban world, as well as in the increasingly virtual nature of things that penetrates the constructed world.

(…) Will urbs et orbis, the city and the world, mean, from now on, “everywhere and it doesn’t matter where”, an urban weave strewn across the planet that deforms both, a pure agglomeration? (J.L. Nancy) These are the unsettling, pressing questions that contemporary cities propose to us and that, for our part, we pose in the face of their incessant growth.

(…) Lewis Mumford was the first to warn of the passage from metropolis to megalopolis: “Formless agglomeration, gigantism, congestion, deterioration, the suppression of nature and the depletion of the environment”. As a counterpoint to this process which conduces to necropolis—the city that dies—Mumford placed a possible “regional structure of civilization” as the essence of culture in cities, based on the idea of interconnected local systems, open to the world; it is a proposal for a new “urban order”, that goes back to the utopia of Ebenezer Howard’s social city and corrects the coercive tendencies of progressive urbanism. (…)So then, there are many centers, the urban universe is pluri-centric and self-contained: it is an extreme summons prior to collapse.

(…) Later, during the 20th century, Marshall McLuhan would maintain that the electronic simultaneousness of information produces a global sphere of audio space where the center is everywhere and the circumference, nowhere. The global city would, in the end, inherit this character.

(…) Today, on the contrary, the “generic city” by Rem Koolhaas, whose indifference to the place is transformed into a value, quite effectively expresses many architects’ and developers’ tendency toward a single “urban world”, finally freed from its classic ties (to the State, rules, social substrates, stability, slowness…). The mandates are mobility, velocity and fluidity. Beneath the center lives the garbage-space; “Fuck the context!” exclaims the fashionable architect, applauded by the media, anthropologists, critics and specialist magazines.

(…) The “non-places” (M. Augé) were the fortunate anthropological definition for the process of estrangement (by becoming strangers) and at the same time, of displacement (the loss of place). Acceleration and an overabundance of events in the way of available information; an overabundance, an excess of spaces in the form of recognizable images and shortened physical distances. On the other hand, these two tendencies multiply the number of non-spaces, installations that are necessary for the vertiginous circulation of people and goods (airports, high velocity roadways, spaces for exchange, malls for shopping and taking strolls…). Globalization’s architecture takes on the form of the “landscape”, then, of travelers’ space (…)

(…) So, then, in name of what notion of city can a critique of the generic city be made? The compact city based on reciprocity (…)
(…) The compact city’s contemporary urbanism can also be assimilated to the ancient idea of proportion, of equitable distribution and reciprocal exchange. Today, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Monaco, London and Paris follow the idea of compactness. (…)What do they all have in common? Precisely the vision of urban renovation (renovatio urbis), understood to be a continuous ability to adapt. “To protect and preserve the genius loci means, in effect, to specify its essence in historical contexts that are always new.” (Norberg-Schulz). The idea of the city cannot renounce the center. In order to be inhabitable, the city must “remember”, conserve-restore, increase, reproduce and multiply, but not dissolve its centrality.

(…) The rationalist city’s geometry makes efforts to capture and organize these aspects of agglomeration that pertain to urban life. However, “the true function of the metropolis is clearly to guarantee positive neighborliness between centers and non-centers”, although not in the form of the Super-central that the rationalists conceived of, but in the form of agglomeration and stacking of collectors, businesses and residences, surfaces built out of doors. Yet “agglomeration” is not the same as saying “world” as meaningful space. The challenge lies in putting diverse, multiple communities of meaning together within a single common living space. Living together globally, “now that every place becomes an indifferent point in space, equivalent and isomorphic” (M. Cacciari), knowing how to invent new places and spaces provided with meaning. If this was possible, and to the extent that we make it possible, we will be able to avoid the loss of the homologous and “senseless” center that the champions of the generic city have theorized, whether it be in the proliferation of closed spaces that are identitary and “immune”, fenced in and claustrophobic, that contemporary architecture offers us, which, in the end, are the two faces of a single process involving the city’s loss of meaning.

* This text corresponds to Chapter 1, “Centro” (Center), of the book Visioni di cittá. Le forme del mondo spaziale [Visions of the City. Forms of the Spatial World] (Turin: Giulio Einaudi Editore, PBE, 2009). English translation: Tamara Stuby.


Paolo Perulli (1950). He studies in Venice, where he taught at Istituto Universitario di Architettura. Perulli has been visiting scholar at M. I. T and at the University of Paris-Sud. He is professor of Economic Sociology at the Università del Piemonte Orientale and visiting professor of Urban Sociology at the Accademia di Architettura of Mendrisio, Switzerland. Is active member of Consiglio Italiano per le Scienze Sociali and is included in the Committee of many Italian and international scientific journals in, among them: Visioni di Città; Le Forme del Mondo Spaziale, Einaudi, Torino, 2009; La Città; La Società Europea Nello Spazio Globale, B. Mondadori, Milano 2007; Piani Strategici. Governare le Città Europee, F. Angeli 2004; Milano; La Città delle Reti, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino,2000; Atlas Metropolitano, Alianza, Madrid, 1995.

In 2005 he won the Premio Capalbio for La Città delle Reti and in 2006 the Annerkennungspreis from the ZIPBau Award for La città. Note per un lessico socio-filosofico.