A German Colossus in America

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Wolf von dem Bussche, American Colossus, portfolio “Homage to Max Ernst”, 1969 (551.1982.a)

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Wolf von dem Bussche, The Messenger, portfolio “Homage to Max Ernst”, 1971 (551.1982.i)

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Wolf von dem Bussche, Reception Committee, portfolio “From the Peaceable Kingdom”, 1969 (551.1982.d)

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Wolf von dem Bussche, The Flirt, portfolio “From the Peaceable Kingdom”, 1972 (551.1982.e)

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Wolf von dem Bussche, Homage to Stieglitz, portfolio “N.Y., N.Y.”, 1976 (551.1982.b)

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Wolf von dem Bussche, Trade Center Towers IV, portfolio “N.Y., N.Y.”, 1976 (551.1982.b)

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Wolf von dem Bussche, Washington Square with Trade Center Towers, portfolio “N.Y., N.Y.”, 1976 (551.1982g)

Trained as a painter, Wolf von dem Bussche was inspired by his friend and neighbor André Kertész to explore the field of photography. Even though his father had always warned him that “Artists eat in the kitchen with the help”, Von dem Bussche became a highly skilled printer and photographer. His work covers a multitude of subjects ranging from humorous animal portraits to surrealistic characterizations of cacti and striking views of the Twin Towers and Washington Square Park in New York.

The portfolio “From the Peaceable Kingdom” reveals Von dem Bussche’s talent to capture and characterize individual animals in an instant moment: the cat who comes frolicking down the hill, playful and seemingly smiling to the photographer. In another image, three horses are framed through the car window. Through the composition the animals turn into protective and proud guards for the group of cows standing in the field behind them.

The otherworldly sensation of the series “Homage to Max Ernst” was put into words by French critic André Laude, a text that is included in the portfolio that is part of the ICP Collection: One will perhaps call to mind that striking image where one sees Max Ernst bent towards his wife, Dorothea Tanning, who sleeps, her eyes closed, watched over by the fabulous, hieratic sculptures of her genial spouse. This transpired in Arizona. Wolf VDB has captured an identical sense of mystery and an equal splendor in abandoning himself to the slow fascination –slow like the serpent in the fable- of the cactus in Mexico… Here is a mute and petrified nature, one all the more troubling. Reality becomes fiction, an upheaval of faces of wild, cruel and pitiless gods. (Emuseum: 551.1982.i)

Von dem Bussche’s photographs of New York, in particular the World Trade Center, show a distinct connection to the Pictorialist tradition and inspiration by Alfred Stieglitz. The grand and painterly scenes of the iconic buildings are indicative of the artist’s careful composition and the exquisite quality of the prints in the ICP Collection are a reflection of his skillful craftsmanship as a printer.

After devoting most of his professional career to photography, Von dem Bussche returned to painting later in life. On August 12, 2014 the photographer passed away. Wolf von dem Bussche was 80 years.

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About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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