The addition of a major work to the collection is always an exciting event at MoMA. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s nine-part photographic work Winding Towers (1966–97) is one such highlight among recent acquisitions in the Department of Photography.
Bernd and Hilla Becher, known for their grids of precise black-and-white photographs of industrial sites, are one of the most influential and dynamic photographic teams in postwar photography. Included among their former students are the superstars Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, and Thomas Ruff, among many others. Bernd Becher and Hilla Wobeser met in 1957 in Düsseldorf, Germany, where they both attended the state art academy. They began to work together in 1959, and married in 1961. Following Bernd Becher’s unexpected death in 2007, Hilla Becher has carried on all aspects of their work, including collaborating with MoMA on a recent exhibition of their work.
For many years the Bechers made frequent trips from their home in Düsseldorf throughout northern Europe and the United States to photograph industrial sites that fascinated them—notably the mines and blast-furnace plants that are essential to the production of steel. Early on in their collaboration, they developed the distinctive method for which they soon became widely known: each individual photograph isolates a large structure and describes it with the frontality and exactitude of an engineer’s diagram. This strict template furnishes the building blocks of what the Bechers came to call “typologies”—and thanks to this strict format, the typologies simultaneously reveal the basic forms of common functions while highlighting the unique details of each particular specimen. In the case of the Winding Towers, the Bechers invite you to get lost in the intricacies and elegance of each structure, while also acknowledging their brute functionality.
It was heartwarming when Robert B. Menschel, a longtime supporter of photography at the Museum, generously acquired this important work in honor of our current president, Marie-Josée Kravis. We were so thrilled about this new addition that we decided to install the photographs in the Photography Galleries just a few days after the acquisition. I encourage you to see this exquisite work photograph in person—it currently hangs prominently in the exhibition Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography on the Museum’s third floor. The image above really is no substitute for the real thing!