An exponent of the Düsseldorf School, Thomas Ruff (born 1958) first received critical acclaim for Porträts, a series of formulaic portraits the artist made of fellow students at the Künstakademie. The artist has since taken photography itself as his subject. Recent bodies of work present thorough investigations of photography’s many uses and meanings, as well as its physical structure.
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Thomas Ruff was born on February 10, 1958 in Zell am Harmersbach, Germany. He attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1977 to 1985. Here, he studied under influential photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, absorbing his teachers’ principles of clarity and objectivity, based in a strong theoretical grounding.
The first of Ruff’s series to receive critical acclaim was Porträts (1986-91; 1998-), a series of formulaic portraits the artist made of fellow students at the Künstakademie. The portraits, produced using even lighting, mimic passport and identity portraits, in their framing and objectivity. Together they comment on themes of identity within the context of a divided Germany during the Cold War era. In 1986, Ruff dramatically altered the scale of these portraits, producing imposing, larger-than-life prints.
In the subsequent three decades, Ruff has taken his chosen medium, photography, as his subject. His recent bodies of work present thorough investigations into photography’s many uses and meanings as well as its physical structure. He has appropriated images from a variety of sources including scientific archives, newspapers, and, more recently, the Internet. Ruff works strictly in series, creating defined bodies of work whose subjects include empty domestic interiors, appropriated NASA photographs and blurred pornography.
Exhibitions and Awards
Thomas Ruff’s work has been exhibited internationally, including exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, London, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan, Haus der Kunst in Munich, and the Whitechapel Gallery, London. Work by the artist is held in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Ruff was selected as a finalist for the Prix Pictet photography award in 2017.
He lives and works in Düsseldorf.