Fotomuseum Winterthur | Saturday, 04.09. – Sunday, 14.11.2004

The Ecstasy of Things – From the Functional Object to the Fetish in 20th Century Photographs

The 20th century was, among other things, the century of things: the creation of beautiful objects and the mass production of objects were carried on side by side, parallel and interwoven. Things came into being: simple things, elemental things, trivial, important, beautiful, noble things, utility objects and things of the mind. Schools of design were founded in which these objects were conceived. Production lines were constructed for the on-going development and mass production of new objects: from the iron-wood ceramic-Bakelite era to the steel-plastic, fiberglass-composite material world, accompanied by the emergence of new tools and ever-newer, better-adapted materials. Later, things started to be associated with an image and to turn into symbols and surrogates. Things, their utilization, their appearance and their financial and symbolic value speak volumes about our relationship with the world. The path through the 20th century leads from the actual things to the immaterial image of things, from the design of objects via their production, the use to which they are put in everyday life and our imagination, right up to their degeneration into trash.

The aim of the exhibition and book project The Ecstasy of Things is to cast a retrospective glance, reflected by the medium of photography, back over the century of things from today’s standpoint. On the one hand, the project describes and explores the economic, technological, ecological, cultural and emotional content of things, on the other it discusses their appearance and steps in the development of their photographic portrayal. In each and every stage of development—the creation, presentation, selection, production, marketing and sale of things—photography is used as a central means of communication. This project is concerned with precisely this kind of photography, photography commissioned by designers, manufacturers and advertising agencies—pictures known as object, or product, photographs. A group of twenty researchers have perused different archives in European and American states in order to find previously undiscovered examples of applied photography on the theme. Parallel to these photographs, the exhibition shows work by photographers including Eugène Atget, Edward Steichen, Hans Finsler, Anton Stankowski, Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander, Man Ray, André Kertész, Hans Bellmer, Duane Michals, William Wegman, Fischli Weiss, Louise Lawler, Christopher Williams and John Gossage.

The exhibition was curated by Martin Gasser, Peter Pfrunder, Thomas Seelig, and Urs Stahel. A coproduction by Fotomuseum Winterthur and the Fotostiftung Schweiz.

Main sponsors: UBS AG, Kanton Zürich