Candida Höfer’s Deserted Spaces

Candida Höfer stands amongst noted Düsseldorf School photographers Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Axel Hüte and Thomas Ruff as a pioneer of large-format conceptual photography. In line with her training at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1973 to 1982, the artist developed an acutely disciplined approach to photographing the interior spaces of cultural institutions, such as libraries, museums and theatres. In 2005, Höfer embarked upon a project at the Louvre Museum which sought to document the architectural spaces of the Parisian landmark, in dialogue with the museum’s rich and expansive collections.

Höfer’s immaculate image of the Salle Mollien, Room 700 at the Louvre, is as unsettling as it is overwhelming. This particular room was decorated for the Imperial Museum in 1863 by Alexandre Dominique Denuelle. The room houses large French Romantic works, including two of the most celebrated paintings in French history, Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830), and The Raft of Medusa (1818-1819) by Théodore Géricault. Deprived of their objecthood by Höfer’s decision to render the space uninhabited, both of these famous works and, to an extent, the aura surrounding their status as high art, are exposed.

Of her devision to exclude people from her institutional photographs, Höfer has said, “…it became apparent to me that what people do in these spaces – and what these spaces do to them – is clearer when no one is present, just as an absent guest is often the subject of a conversation.” Höfer’s photographs engage in institutional critique, commenting on institutional prejudice, history and memory. By offering the opportunity to enter the spaces she photographs through a lens of technical perfection, Höfer encourages the viewer to become aware of their role as a spectator and reflect upon the institutional parameters of that spectatorship.

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