Jeff Cowen


30.10.2016 until 29.01.2017

The Ludwig Museum is presenting the first solo museum exhibition of the New York artist Jeff Cowen, who is now based in Berlin.
Cowen uses only analogue photography. All the prints are made in his Berlin darkroom. His chief concern is not a return to the photographic past, but rather to plumb and expand the limits of the medium from a present-day perspective. The photographs themselves represent only the starting point and the basis of an artistic process. Using different chemicals and other additives, Cowen works freely on the photographic paper, in order thus to appropriate the material in a painterly fashion. Other works are created totally without a negative.
He is primarily concerned less with the photographic image, the individual motif – be it landscape, portrait, still life or sculpture – than with the material, chemical pre-conditions of the photographic process. He is interested in the question of how the sensory experience of three-dimensional plasticity can be reproduced in the two-dimensionality of the photographic print. The process is in part consciously controlled, but not comprehensively laid down in advance. Cowen is searching for something that he does not rationally understand, but which he feels and knows exists.
Thus for example in the series of photographs dealing exclusively with sculpture, he searches for a dialogue with the sculptor in question with the intention of bringing out in a totally new way the plastic qualities of the artwork he has photographed. The sculptures are brought to life and, in the new context of the picture, develop unaccustomed energies. His portraits by contrast follow an almost oppo-site logic, as the models are inexorably subjected during the sitting to very specific moods and feelings. The artist has to overcome this detachment and this being ‘chained to the moment’ in order to capture the brief second in which the person comes across as un-self-consciously as possible. Only thus can he come close to the essence of the sitter and only thus, too, do formal characteristics become apparent.

Jeff Cowen occupies a central position in contemporary art. The use of the medium of photography seems, against the background of digital picture production and manipulation, to be in crisis. His painterly approach is not a reaction to the development of the medium in recent years, and contemporary art production is hardly a reference point for him. But if we view his pictures as we would a painting or a drawing, we can recognize the mostly unexploited potential of photography.
Jeff Cowen (b. 1966) grew up on New York’s Upper West Side and graduated in Oriental Studies at New York University. After a year as a student in Tokyo he moved in the late 1980s to the Meatpacking District in New York. His series ‘West 14th Street’, in which he photographed the district’s transvestite scene, was bought by the New York Historical Society for its permanent collection. In the following years, he worked as assistant to Larry Clark and Ralph Gibson, a time he used in order to familiarize himself with various darkroom techniques. He earned his living as a taxi-driver. Following the attacks of 11 September he left the city and moved to Paris. Since 2007 he has been living and working in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district.

The exhibition was conceived in close co-operation with the Museum Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, to where it will move in March 2017.
The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensively illustrated catalogue published by Walther König, Cologne.

The exhibition has been extented until January, 29th 2017