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.
2020 Thomas Ruff, K20 – Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
2019 Serien, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich ansforming Photography, David Zwirner, Hong Kong ipe & flower.s, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich
2018, Galeria OMR, Mexico City neg◊lapresmidi, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich
2017, ARARIO Museum, Jeju Island, Korea, Etablissement d’en face Projects, Brussels, National Porait Gallery, London, Whitechapel Gallery, London ++from the press++, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich : Machine + Energy, Mast Foundation, Bologna New Works, Sprüth Magers, Berlin
2016 New Works, David Zwirner, London, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo [itinerary: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan] Object Relations, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto [organized in collaboration with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Toronto] press++, David Zwirner, New York
2015 nature morte, Gagosian Gallery, London
2014 Lichten, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent [itinerary: Kunsthalle Düsseldorf ma.r.s. and negatives, Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo new work, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich photograms, TOLOT/heuristic SHINONOME, Tokyo [organized by Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo] photograms and negatives, Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills
2013 j_m_s_s_z, Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan ma.r.s, Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid photograms, Johnen Galerie, Berlin photograms and ma.r.s., David Zwirner, New York Series, Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid 2
2012 nudes, concurrent with ma.r.s., Gagosian Gallery, London, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich, Haus der Kunst, Munich
2011 ma.r.s., Ceno de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Spain MCA DNA:, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Stellar Landscapes, LWL-Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich
2010, David Zwirner, New York, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand, Johnen Galerie, Berlin, Palazzo Buonamici; Biblioteca Comunale Istituto Culturale e di Documentazione Lazzerini; Dryphoto arte contemporanea, Prato, Italy; Biblioteca Comunale Bartolomeo Della Fonte, Villa Giamari, Montemurlo, Italy; and Spazio d’arte Alberto Moretti/Schema Polis, Carmignano, Italy
2009 Schwarzwald.Landschaft, Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg, Germany Surfaces, Depths, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Castello di Rivoli – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin
2008 A Retrospective, Műcsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest zycles + cassini, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich
2007 Jpegs, Moderna Museet, Stockholm The Sprengel Project, Sprengel Museum, Hanover, David Zwirner, New York, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich
2006 Jpegs, Johnen Galerie, Berlin, Arario Beijing, Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, Galerie Nelson, Paris The Grammar of Photography, Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice
2005 Jpegs, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich New Work, David Zwirner, New York
A4 Art Museum, Chengdu
Arario Museum, Seoul
Art Institute of Chicago
The Broad, Los Angeles
Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art
Dallas Museum of Art
Fondation Cartier pour l´art contemporain, Paris
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein–Westfalen, Dusseldorf
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Moderna Museet Stockholm
Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The National Museum of Art, Osaka
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
The National Museum of Photography, Copenhagen
Philadelphia Museum of Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Thomas Ruff at Haus der Kunst.