The pioneering American conceptualist Douglas Huebler was among the first to use photography as a medium for art. He employed diverse systems of documentation to chronicle rule-based but unscripted events and encounters. Variable Piece #70 stands as the most ambitious project of his career: to make a photographic record of ‘everyone alive.’ The utter futility of the premise was liberating, and Huebler would set different terms of play for each iteration. No fastidious archivist, Huebler pursued Variable Piece #70 until his death, always undercutting the project’s potential rigour with allowances for subjectivity and humour.
In Variable Piece #101, Huebler takes headshots of Bernd Becher, the influential founder of the 1980s New Objectivity photographic movement. With his wife Hilla Becher, Bernd taught such artists as Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer and Thomas Ruff at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Here he pulls a series of faces, a playful counterpoint to his own iconic grid-based photographic projects that systematically documented industrial structures in an ‘objective’ formalist mode. A statement that accompanies the photographs explains Huebler’s concept:
‘On December 17, 1972 a photograph was made of Berndt Becher at the instant almost exactly after he had been asked to “look like” a priest a criminal, a lover, an old man, a policeman, an artist, “Berndt Becher,” a philosopher, a spy and a “nice guy” in that order. In order that Becher would no longer remember his “faces” prints of the photographs were sent to him more than two months later; the photographs were numbered differently from the original sequence and Becher was asked to make the “correct” associations with the given terms. His choices: 1. Bernd Becher; 2. Nice guy; 3. Spy; 4. Old man; 5. Artist; 6. Policeman; 7. Priest; 8. Philosopher; 9. Criminal; 10. Lover. Ten photographs and this statement join together to constitute the final form of this piece.’