May 24 – August 25, 2019
FORUM 049: Sebastian Riemer – Archival Empathy

The photographs of Düsseldorf artist Sebastian Riemer (born 1982 in Oberhausen) explore selected facets of the photographic image. Riemer’s work frequently draws on historical images, some even dating as far back as the earliest days of photography.

In his “Press Paintings” series, begun in 2013, Riemer revisits American press photos from the period running from the 1920s to the 1970s. These images served as templates that would then be manually edited before going to press so that their content could be tailored to the requirements of the article they were intended to accompany. These changes were applied directly to the surface of the photograph with brush and paint. Riemer’s high-resolution reproductions quirkily exaggerate these edits, thus placing the images at quite a distance from their original purpose. Viewers are confronted with virtually life-size images of people, with the fine brushwork of the original retouching now taking on the guise of an expressive trompe l’oeil painting.

Sebastian Riemer, “Abandoned (Socccer)”, 2016, Pigment print © Sebastian Riemer
Sebastian Riemer, "Wetzler Boy", 2016/19, 165x125cm, Gelatin silver print (© Sebastian Riemer
Sebastian Riemer, "Achrome Still (Monuments)", 2016, 166x245cm, C-Print © Sebastian Riemer
Sebastian Riemer, "Double Gothic", 2016, 137x197cm, C-Print © Sebastian Riemer

“Instant Photos” is a series of works begun by Riemer in 2015 in which he takes Polaroids of historical daguerreotypes. This series examines the representational inaccuracies of these primitive early techniques. People appear as cut-outs against a milky beam of light, surrounded by an abstract swirl of developer fluid which clothes the image in a washed-out blue. Individual scratches etch the surface of the photographs. His subjects already appear throwbacks to another age with their mid-19th century appearance and bearing – their resemblance to cut-outs adds another layer of mystery to their significance and the story they have to tell. It is clear that Riemer’s works question the meaningfulness of portrait photos and our ability to interpret them. His images draw our attention to the distance between the time when the originals were created and the present day, while at the same time remaining resolutely located in the here and now.

Riemer’s works do not merely offer a personal reworking of the originals, but raise questions about the specific media used and the history of reception itself. He examines the “post-truth” dimension that photography has always enjoyed, since its earliest days. In our digital age, the power of images created by technology is more apparent than ever before. In this sense, Riemer’s reworkings are highly topical, insofar as they are able to shed light on the origins of the techniques that we still use to produce images today and ask searching questions about how they work the way they do.


2003-2010 Studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under the supervision of Thomas Ruff and Christopher Williams
2006 “Master’s student” (Meisterschüler) supervised by Thomas Ruff

Selected exhibitions

2019 Next Generations – Contemporary Photography Made in Rhineland, Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen
2018 In plain Air, SCAG Contemporary, Vienna
GRLS BBYLON, Setareh Gallery, Düsseldorf
2017 Germany 8, White Box Art Museum, Beijing
Quadrate und Mädchen (Squares and girls), Goethe Institute, Tel Aviv
Akademie (working title) , Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf
Ecker Riemer Ruff – Retouched, Museum Folkwang, Essen
2016 Noise, Setareh Gallery, Düsseldorf
That's how the light gets in, Kunsthaus NRW, Kornelimünster
2015 De l'authentique aujourd'hui, Galerie Dix9, Paris
I : I, Parkhaus im Malkastenpark, Düsseldorf
2014 Dystotal, Pori Art Museum, Pori
2013 Spolia, Galerie DIX9, Paris
10 Jahre - 10 Fotos(10 years – 10 photos), Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
2012 Sebastian Riemer , Clara Maria Sels Gallery, Düsseldorf
Für immer jung (Forever young), Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin
Fascinating Documents, House of Photography, Moscow
2010 New Talents Biennale, Kunststation St.Peter, Cologne
2009 TANSTAFL, Konsortium, Düsseldorf
2007 Portrety z Autostrady oraz Obrazy okien, Galeria Zpafiska, Krakow
2004 03 --- 04, NRW-Forum, Düsseldorf

Curators of the gallery exhibit:
Daria Bona, Fellow, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung, Essen
and Rudolf Scheutle, Photography Collection