top of page

August Sander/Boris Mikhailov: German Portraits

March 22–May 5, 2012

32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY


Installation Views

Selected Works

NEW YORK, February 10, 2012: Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present August Sander/Boris Mikhailov: German Portraits, on view March 22 through May 5, 2012. The exhibition juxtaposes 20 20th-century portraits by German cultural documentarian August Sander with 10 photographs from Boris Mikhailov's German Portraits series (2008) to examine how two seminal photographers approached the subject of portraiture in Germany, nearly a century apart. An opening reception will be held at the gallery on Thursday, March 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

August Sander (1876-1964) is known as the most significant German photographer of the early 20th century, whose typological approach to the medium was highly influential to artists such as Bernd and Hilda Becher, Andreas Gursky, and Thomas Ruff. In his monumental project and photographic masterpiece, People of the 20th Century (c. 1910-1956) Sander sought to create a comprehensive visual index of the German population. Comprised of over 600 images, People of the 20th Century presents a collective portrait of Weimar German society through the classification of seven archetypal groups: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artist, The City, and The Last People. Sander believed an occupational hierarchy structured society and applied this theory to his work. Honest and objective in nature, Sander's photographs strike a unique balance in their representation of the individual and archetype to construct a true social portrait of the age.

Nearly a century after Sander, Ukrainian-born photographer Boris Mikhailov (b. 1938) photographed Germany's middle class with the same uncompromising directness. Mikhailov's incisive color portraits of the citizens of the German town of Braunschweig populate the 2008 Maquette Braunschweig project in which members of a theater's chorus were closely observed and documented during a production of Aeschylus' tragedy The Persians. Captured in profile against a dark background, chorus members photographed range from students to retirees, providing a visual survey of Braunschweig's middle class. Mikhailov's exclusive concentration on his subjects' profiles makes reference not only to physiognomy (Theodor Piderit's formative work, Principles of Mimic and Physiognomy, was published in Braunschweig in 1858), but also to eugenics, as Adolf Hitler became a German citizen in the city in 1932. More importantly, the recurrence of the profile against a neutral backdrop invites a visual comparison of line and form, allowing viewers to contemplate what it means to be German in the most literal, physical sense.

Exhibited widely since the late 1960s, Mikhailov is considered the foremost photographer of the former Soviet Union. His most recent exhibition was the critically acclaimed Case History at The Museum of Modern Art last year and his photographs can be found in collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Sprengel Museum, Hanover; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

bottom of page