Heinrich Kühn’s Cabinet

Or the Photographer’s Love for his Materials

May 6 – August 28, 2016

Heinrich Kühn (1866-1944) is one of the most important exponents of European art photography around 1900. Through his studies on the artistic transposition of the photographic image onto paper, Kühn made a fundamental contribution to the development of this early style of photography. To mark the 150th anniversary of his birth Museum Folkwang is showing an exquisite selection of 14 works by this German/Austrian artist.

Kühn looked for new dimensions in the photographic image which allowed this technical medium to very much mirror the artistic trends of its day – Impressionism, Jugendstil and Symbolism – on an equal footing with painting and graphic art. At the centre of the exhibition Heinrich Kühn's cabinet. Or the photographer’s love of his materials stands an artist’s cabinet. Kühn had this cabinet made by the Wiener Werkstätten and stored in it all manner of different papers for the fine printing processes which he practised and continued to hone with great mastery.

This selection of works provides insights into the textile, material and sensory quality of the various techniques, as well as explaining to visitors Kühn’s way of looking at things and the photographic genres that he favoured – from his early landscapes to private portraits and scenes showing his family and friends, portraits of his colleagues and other artists and finally still lifes referencing the formal vocabulary of Modern art and its focus on detail sections.

For a long time art photography was considered a form of aberration by the medium because of its great similarity with painting. Nowadays this extravagant chapter in the history of photography is, once again, held in great esteem because of the high quality of its artistic designs and its modern approach, seeing the photographic image as the starting point for a picture that subsequently takes on a life of its own: You do not take a photograph. You make it, as one great photographer and colleague of Heinrich Kühn, Alfred Stieglitz, neatly put it.

A lavish book will be published by Steidl Verlag to accompany the exhibition. It will be focussing particularly on the aesthetics of Kühn’s printing processes. With essays by the international Kühn experts Monika Faber, Astrid Mahler and Andreas Gruber. The book will be presented at Museum Folkwang on Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 6 p.m. by Monika Faber and Gerhard Steidl.

The exhibition is being realized in cooperation with Photoinstitut Bonartes, Vienna.

Heinrich Kühn
Still life with oranges, about 1909
Bromoil transfer print, double
Museum Folkwang, Photo: Jen Nober

Heinrich Kühn
Die Wiese, 1898
Gummidruck, dreifarbig, 76,4 x 55,6 cm
© Museum Folkwang, Essen

Heinrich Kühn
Miss Mary (Warner) mit Lotte und Edeltrude Kühn in Bad Burgstall, um 1917
Mehrfacher Ölumdruck, 38,5 x 27,4 cm
© Museum Folkwang, Essen