Henry Wessel

Biography

Since the mid-1960s, the American photographer Henry Wessel (1942-2018) has created a diverse body of work that was shaped from the outset by his interest in the sights and spaces of America. Wessel belongs to a group of photographers called New Topographics, among them Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose work engages in the dialectical relationship of nature and civilization. 

Beyond that, Wessel has developed his own thoroughly structured visual language with its characteristic touches of humour and irony. Coincidence, spontaneity and everyday chaos find a natural acceptance in his pictures. Wessel’s photographs often draw attention to quiet and simple scenes and events that could easily be missed. They speak of his intuition and visual sensibility to render scenes in a way that is formally convincing and lyrical at the same time.

In his work group California and the West Henry Wessel put together his core ideas and subjects from the 1960s to the 1990s. Among his preferred motifs are the desert-like landscapes of California and the American West, the vernacular architecture and streets of suburbia, the gardens of the houses, scenes observed during parades or on the beach. Ever since Wessel’s fleeing west from the grey New York winter of 1969, the special light he found in California became a major compositional element in his photographic work. Henry Wessel’s interest in light is antagonistically reflected in the more recent series Night Walk. These photographs, dating from 1995–1998, were made after dark on long walks through residential areas of Los Angeles. In the series Real Estate Photographs, created in 1990 and 1992, Wessel works exclusively in colour. Shooting from the higher vantage of his pick-up, he systematically photographed suburban houses in the area around Richmond, California, which had been Henry Wessel’s home since the 1970s.


Read More:

Wessel: Capturing the Image, Transcending the Subject, The New York Times, Essay by Philip Gefter, 21 May 2006

Biography

Born 1942 in Teaneck, New Jersey, USA.

Died 2018 in Point Richmond, California, USA.

Education

1966

Pennsylvania State University, B.A.

1972

State University of New York at Buffalo / Visual Studies Workshop, M.F.A.

Grants and Awards

1979

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship

1978

National Endowment for the Arts Survey Grant

1977

National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

1975

National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

1971

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2023
Henry Wessel: On the Shore, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA, USA

2022

Henry Wessel. Documentary Style and Beyond, Centro José Guerrero, Granada, Spain

2020

Henry Wessel. A Walk, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, Russia

2019

Henry Wessel. Summer Light, Fondation A Stichting, Brussels, Belgium

Henry Wessel. A Dark Thread, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France

2018

Henry Wessel. Still Photographs, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany

2016

Standard & Icons. Photography by Henry Wessel, Amerikahaus, Munich, Germany

2015

Henry Wessel. Continental Divide, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany

2014

Henry Wessel, Tate Modern, London, UK

2011

Henry Wessel. Waikiki, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany

2009 – 2010

Henry Wessel. Photographs, Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, Germany

2008

Henry Wessel. Photographs, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany

2007

Henry Wessel. Retrospective, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

Die Photographische Sammlung/SK-Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, Germany

1988

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island

1987

International Museum of Photography, Osaka, Japan

Studies Workshop, Rochester, New York

1973

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Selected Group Exhibitions

2023
With Soft Eyes, Center for Photographic Art, CA, USA

2022 – 2023
Joan Didion: What She Means, Hammer Museum, LA,CA,USA

MOMAT Collection, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan

2020 – 2021

InterStates of Mind: Rewriting the Map of the United States in the Age of the Automobile, Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, Michigan, USA

2018

No Time, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco, California

2017

Autophoto, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, France

2014

Road Trip, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France

2011

Seismic Shift, UCR / California Museum of Photography, Riverside, California

Here, Pier 24 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, California

Sammlung Falckenberg, Phoenix Hallen, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany

Hyper Real – Kunst und Amerika um 1970, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, SK-Stiftung, Cologne, Germany and Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain

NEW TOPOGRAPHICS (Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, Henry Wessel), Preus Museum, Horten, Norway

2010 – 2011

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, Landesgalerie Linz, Austria

2010

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

Le paradis, ou presque: Los Angeles (1865-2008), Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saone, France

2009

This Side of Paradise: Los Angeles (1865-2008), Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland

2007

Re-SITE-ing the West, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

2005

Garry Winogrand and the Street Photographers (Mitch Epstein, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyerowitz, Henry Wessel), Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

American Street Photography, Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany

2004

Ditto – Multiples from the Collection, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, Illinois

2003

The Gray Area, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, California

2001

Masterpieces of California Photography: Capturing Light, 1850-2000, Oakland Museum, Oakland, USA Beyond Boundaries: Contemporary Photography in California, Ansel Adams Center, San Francisco, California

Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-Depicting Absence/Implying Presence, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, California

Exurbia, Gallery Luisotti, San Monica, California

Blind Date, Brent Sikkema Gallery, New York

Show Time, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, California

2000

Walker Evans & Company, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Ditto, James Harris Gallery, Seattle, Washington

1999 – 2000

MOMA 2000, Modern Starts: People, Places, Things, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1999

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

An American Century of Photography, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington

1997

Icons – Magnets of Meaning, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

Backyards, Robert Mann Gallery, New York

Rethinking Topographics, Gallery Ram, Santa Monica, California

1996

Crossing the Frontier: Photographs of the Developing West 1849 to the Present, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

1995

Facing Eden, 100 Years of Landscape Art, de Young Museum, San Francisco, California

Seeing Things: Photographs from 1844 to 1995, Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York

1994

Gesture and Pose: Twentieth Century Photographs, Museum of Modern Art, New York

New Work, New Directions, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

1993

Critical Landscape, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan

1991

Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1989

Picturing California: A Century of Photographic Genius, Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

1987

Photographs from the Last Decade, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

1984

Photography in California: 1945-1980, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

1983

20th Century Photographs from the MoMa, Museum of Modern Art, New York and Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan

1981

American Landscapes: Photographs from the Collection of the MoMa, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1978

Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, International Museum of Photography, Rochester

Selected Bibliography

2019

Henry Wessel. A Dark Thread, Mack, London, UK

2016

Henry Wessel. Traffic / Sunset Park / Continental Divide, Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany

2012

Henry Wessel. Incidents, Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany

2011

Henry Wessel. Waikiki, Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany

2007

Henry Wessel, Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany

2006

Henry Wessel. California and the West / Odd Photos / Las Vegas / Real State Photographs / Night Walk, Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany

Public Collections

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

California Historical Society, San Francisco, California

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California

Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, California

Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California

Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada

Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australia

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan

KMS Fine Art Group, Baar, Switzerland

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

Works

...

Exhibitions

Documents

News

Publications

Enquire about this work