Candida Höfer in Italy, Part 1: Florence - Portraits of Spaces

  • FLORENCE, Italy
  • /
  • December 01, 2009

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Candida Höfer, 4. Uffizi Firenze V 2008. C-print edition of 6, 250 x 200 cm. All images ©2009 Candida Höfer/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Portraits of Spaces, an exhibition of twenty monumental photographs of some of Florence’s most impressive interiors by the German photographer Candida Höfer, will take place at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Via Camillo Cavour 1, 50129 Florence, under the auspices of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, from 11 December 2009 to 24 January 2010.

The idea for Portraits of Spaces was born during a discussion in late 2006 between James Bradburne, Director General of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, and gallerist Ben Brown who represents Candida Höfer in London. The Fondazione had only recently been created but it was clear from the outset that its mission was to present Florence to the world and to play a part in the city’s ‘new Renaissance’ by being a catalyst for cultural events of international appeal. Then, as now, contemporary art was seen to be an important means to this end, and the work of Candida Höfer seemed to capture perfectly the insight that ‘contemporary is not what you do but how you do it’. Höfer’s austere portraits of interiors have as their content historical spaces but seen with a profoundly contemporary, post-modern sensibility. Above all, the project addressed the need to present Florence as a vital, contemporary whole, rather than separate attractions competing for attention.

Candida Höfer specialises in meticulously composed large-format photographs of empty interiors and social spaces that capture the ‘psychology of social architecture’. She photographs rooms in libraries, museums, theatres, cafés and universities as well as historic houses and palaces – of which Florence has some of the most extraordinary examples in the world. She explores powerful and deserted interiors, devoid of human presence and gloriously still. Her images therefore become an “encyclopaedia” of the spaces within which mankind has achieved greatness: libraries, cathedrals, museums, yet humans are nowhere to be seen, their transience obvious and the permanence of their monuments striking. Höfer produces these magnificent portraits of interiors without digitally enhancing or altering the images. Her technique of working solely with the existing light source allows her to capture the most intricate details in every photograph for posterity.

The project which led to this exhibition began an inventory of the countless possible public spaces in Florence, deliberately excluding churches and private houses to make the task more manageable, from which Candida made her preliminary selection. She then made a series of extended visits to Florence in 2007 and 2008, carefully documenting these spaces. From these a final twenty were selected that capture Candida’s vision of Florence and its libraries, museums and theatres including rooms in the Museo di San Marco, the Uffizi including the Biblioteca, Teatro della Pergola, Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Corsini, Villa di Poggio a Caiano, Prato, Bibliotecas Marucelliana and Riccardiana, the Accademia with a view of Michelangelo’s David, Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Medici Riccardi. The average size of these stunning images is 200 by 250 cm.

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) lives and works in Cologne. Having completed her training at the Schmölz-Huth Studio, she became a pupil of Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1976, and one can immediately identify in her aesthetics the clear influence of a school of thought and photography focusing on physical spaces, intent on capturing the subtle variations within them. Alongside the other great contemporary photographers, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer belongs to the School of Düsseldorf, a movement known for its neutral and methodical analysis of the spaces which we, as contemporary human beings, inhabit.

Höfer’s work has been recognised and shown internationally at the Kunsthalle in Basel and Berne, the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, among others, and many of her works are in major museum and private collections. She represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and participated in documenta 11 (2002).

Portraits of Spaces will be unveiled in October at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London where it will be followed by a second exhibition devoted to Candida Höfer’s photographs taken in Naples. The showing in Florence both coincides and contrasts with the major exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, Art and Illusions: Masterpieces of trompe-l’œil from antiquity to the present and the accompanying exhibition of contemporary photography Manipulating Reality: How Images Redefine the World. While these exhibitions explore the manipulation of the viewer in one case and the subject matter in the other, Portraits of Spaces explores the architecture of ornate, baroque interiors with extreme clarity while the camera maintains the calm of the disinterested gaze – attentive, curious, but strangely aloof.

The Palazzo Medici Riccardi, built between 1445 and 1460, is one of the finest and most famous in Florence. The Palazzo has a particularly fascinating history, rich in art and also in political, cultural and worldly events. Built by Michelozzo on commission from the Medici, the building became the prototype of Renaissance civil architecture. Its robust and austere design was for at least a century a symbol of the political and cultural primacy of the Medici in Florence. After a period of neglect, in 1659 the Medici sold it to the Riccardi who extended the building northwards and partially renovated the interior in the lavish Baroque style. In 1814 the Riccardi sold the Palazzo to the State. Since 1874 it has belonged to the Provincial Authority, which has adopted a policy of restoration and development of the building and the works housed within.

Sue Bond Public Relations. Tel: +44(0)1359 271085. Fax: +44(0)1359 271934. Email:

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