Porträt. Photographs by Matthias Schaller at NRW-Forum
Reflective visors of astronaut helmets, desolate studios and abandoned offices in the Vatican: absence is the foundational motif in the work of photographer Matthias Schaller. He portrays people by avoiding their direct gaze. With some 100 works the exhibition presents the photographer’s unconventional portraits, which capture his limitless curiosity for the world, the people, and the art around him.
Instead of aiming his camera at people, Schaller devotes himself to their everyday environments and surroundings. His photographic works, inspired by the art history of the Middle Ages as much as the most recent past, are enlivened by absence. They pull the viewer into the picture and throw them back into themselves at the same time.
How the play with presence and absence challenges the boundaries of the portrait genre is impressively demonstrated in the Disportraits (2008-2009): astronaut helmet visors reflect a black void and obscure any view of the people inside. Though the space suits are authentic, it is not a person who takes centre stage, but rather their empty shell.
The Purple Desk series (2004-2008) is also not about the image of an individual, but, in this case, the portrait of an institution. Schaller photographed the offices of the highest-ranking employees of the Roman Catholic Church’s central administration, the Vatican's Curia Cardinals, meticulously removing all personal objects in advance.
The exhibition includes further works from the series Echokammer, Lagunenwalzer, Antonio Canova, Die Mühle and Das Meisterstück. This is Matthias Schaller's first comprehensive solo exhibition in Germany, bringing the artist back to Düsseldorf: it was here that he created the series Die Mühle (The Mill, 2001–2002), in which in which he scanned the place where Bernd and Hilla Becher worked with his camera and created indirect portraits of two of Düsseldorf's most influential artists.