Hauser & Wirth’s slate tends to favor abstraction and large-scale sculpture, but the gallery, which has spaces in New York, Zurich, London, Somerset, England, and Los Angeles (under the name Hauser Wirth & Schimmel), will soon move further into the photography market. The gallery now represents the estate of August Sander, a German artist whose influence on contemporary photographers—and artists of other varieties—is formidable. The new representation arrangement is a collaboration with the esteemed photographer’s great grandson, Julian Sander, who runs a gallery in Cologne. August Sander’s work will be the subject of a solo show this spring at one of Hauser & Wirth’s two New York spaces.
Sander is most often associated with ambitious projects that took a strict conceptual tack. From the 1920s until his death in 1964, for a series called “People of the 20th Century,” he set out to photograph every segment of German society, which he divided into broad archetypes. Each black-and-white portrait in the series is frontal, with people of various shapes and sizes, from a little girl in a garden to a factory worker holding a pile of bricks and staring straight into the camera’s lens.
In 2015, the Museum of Modern Art acquired 619 prints from the series. The museum is currently working on a five-year initiative it has dubbed the August Sander Project, which includes a conference each year about the artist’s work. (The first was held this past September.) Upon the major acquisition, MoMA curator Sarah Meister called the series “the single most important body of work of the 20th century.”
Sander’s influence has been expansive. Photographers from Hilla and Bernd Becher to Sophie Calle have been inspired by Sander’s ability to set down rules for how to create his art—and to follow those rules precisely. Beyond the bounds of photography, as Hauser & Wirth vice president Marc Payot explained, Sander’s legacy made a lasting impact on conceptual art. “Sander’s medium was photography, and he was a bona fide pioneer,” Payot said. “But we view Sander much more broadly—not as the exemplar of a single medium but as an artist whose formal innovations, humanism, and conceptual bearings have exerted enormous influence on other artists in a lot of other mediums.”
He continued: “It’s simply not possible to talk about art of the 20th and 21st century without also talking about the camera. We consider Sander to be among the most important of the classical photographers, but his conceptual rigor and emotional potency are timeless and relevant to a dialogue beyond photography.”