The David Winton Bell Gallery is pleased to announce the recent acquisition of a series of twelve photographs by pioneering conceptual photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher: Framework Houses, Industrial District of Siegen from 1959–1973. These duotone lithograph prints belong to one of two such portfolios the Becher’s printed in the early 1990s. In 1959 the Bechers met and began meticulously photographing the industrial architecture of their native Germany. They approached the built landscape systematically, identifying and documenting groups of like structures. For each of these “typologies” they serially photographed the buildings in black and white, frontally and centrally framed, and isolated from the surrounding environment by a neutral cloudless sky. The resulting sense of objectivity is echoed by the formal arrangement of each typology into a non-hierarchical grid. The Bechers’ use of seriality as an organizing principle paralleled non-compositional developments in minimalism and conceptual art at the time. Moreover, their procedural approach to photography recalls echoes the essentially mechanical nature of the medium itself.
While many of the Bechers’ typologies document explicitly industrial buildings — such as grain elevators and water towers — the Framework Houses reflect the broader landscape of industrial production. This series records the living quarters of Siegen’s many ironworkers. The majority of the houses were built between 1870 and 1914 at the height of iron smelting in the region. In 1977 the Framework Houses were published in an epynonomously titled artists’ book, the Bechers’ first and most well known.
This exciting acquisition represents the first purchase made as part the Bell Gallery’s initiative to expand its collection of documentary photography into the present. The Bell Gallery has exceptionally strong photography holdings from the 1920s to 60s, including significant bodies of work by artists such as Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Danny Lyons, and Larry Clark. The Framework Houses mark a pivotal moment in the history of photography, representing the transition from the straight forwardly documentary practices to the more conceptually driven work generated by the Bechers and their students.