Thomas Ruff became internationally known in the late 1980s as a member of the Düsseldorf School, a group of young photographers who had studied with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the renowned Düsseldorf Art Academy and became known for their experimental approach to the medium and its evolving technological possibilities. Thomas Ruff, in particular, broke radically with the style of his teachers and established an independent approach to conceptual photography through a variety of strategies, including the use of color, the deliberate manipulation of image originals-originally through manual retouching techniques and eventually through digital methods-and the enlargement of the photographic print to the scale of monumental painting. Since then, Thomas Ruff has worked in discrete series, using these methods to explore in depth various photographic genres, including portrait, nude, landscape, and architectural photography, to name a few. This overarching exploration of the “grammar of photography” has been of great importance to subsequent generations of photographers and explains not only his heterogeneous subject matter, but also the extreme variation in the technical means used to produce his series, which range from anachronistic equipment to the most advanced computer simulators, covering almost everything in between.
Born in 1958 in Zell am Harmersbach, Germany, Thomas Ruff attended the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf from 1977 to 1985. Since 2000, his work has been represented by David Zwirner. His previous solo exhibitions at the New York gallery include press++ (2016); photograms and ma.r.s. (2013), Thomas Ruff (2010 and 2007), New Work (2005 and 2003), l.m.v.d.r. (2001), and Nudes (2000). In 2016, New Works was Thomas Ruff’s first solo exhibition at the London gallery. Transforming Photography, presented at the gallery’s Hong Kong location in 2019, was the artist’s tenth solo exhibition with David Zwirner.
A solo presentation of Thomas Ruff was on view in 2020 at K20 – Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. In 2018-2019, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, showed works by the artist in the exhibition No Two Alike: Karl Blossfeldt, Francis Bruguière, Thomas Ruff, which was part of the FotoFocus Biennial 2018. Also in 2018, Ruff’s work was featured in Photography Spotlight, an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London celebrating the opening of the museum’s new photography center. The artist created a new group of works titled “Tripe” as a special commission for the inauguration of the space.
Thomas Ruff’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at internationally renowned venues. In 2017, the Whitechapel Gallery in London presented a solo exhibition of works by Ruff from 1979 to 2017. In addition, a major survey exhibition of works by Thomas Ruff spanning his entire career was shown at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, in 2016-2017, and was first shown at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo in 2016. Also in 2016, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto (in collaboration with the 2016 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival) presented Object Relations, a solo presentation of Ruff’s work featuring over thirty large-scale photographs from his ongoing series. In 2014, Thomas Ruff: Lichten will be presented at the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.) in Ghent. The exhibition, which consists of five series by the artist from the 1970s to the present, traveled to the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. In 2012, a large-scale comprehensive survey was presented at Haus der Kunst in Munich.
Works by the artist are in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, Austria; Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Museum of Photography, Copenhagen; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent. Thomas Ruff lives and works in Düsseldorf.