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Same but different

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Pamela Buxton

A comprehensive exhibition of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs reveals buildings’ individual aesthetics

Bernd and Hilla Becher famously collect industrial buildings like specimens, documenting them through their photographs with dispassionate rigour. After this fieldwork, they analyse their subjects to explore the particular characteristics of the buildings before grouping them into typologies that reveal both their similarities and differences.

A new exhibition at the Sprüth Magers gallery is a rare chance to see their hugely influential work en masse in this country. The show, their first solo exhibition in London since 1998, was put together by Hilla Becher (Bernd died in 2007) and is a combination of typologies and individual works.

While all the work celebrates the sculptural qualities of the mundane, the typologies are particularly fascinating as studies of the great variety of forms for structures such as water towers, coal bunkers and gas tanks. The grid-like group presentation serves to enhance such individual characteristics as an elegant finial detail on the structure of a gas tank.  Structures with particularly strong personalities are presented as individual works, celebrating the weird and wonderful forms governed purely by function rather than the conventional rules of proportion and aesthetics. All photos are analogue with a gloss finish, printed using methods tried and tested by the Bechers over half a century. Their work may be familiar from books, but seen at first hand, the detail is breathtaking.

Bernd + Hilla Becher, until October 4, Sprüth Magers, 7A Grafton Street, London,

All pictures courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London

See also Lasting impression, RIBA Journal's review of the Edwin Smith exhibition at the RIBA.

  • Mine Head, Siege De Folschwiller, F, 1987
    Mine Head, Siege De Folschwiller, F, 1987
  • Industrial Facades, 1970-1998.
    Industrial Facades, 1970-1998.
  • Water Towers, 1969-1993.
    Water Towers, 1969-1993.
  • Mine Head, Zeche Rossenray, Kamp-Lintford, GER, 1979.
    Mine Head, Zeche Rossenray, Kamp-Lintford, GER, 1979.
  • Lime Kiln, Kaltes Tal, GER, 1997.
    Lime Kiln, Kaltes Tal, GER, 1997.