Thomas Struth – Pantheon, Rome, 1990
Thomas Struth is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary photographers of our time. He is renowned for his black and white photographs of cities such as Düsseldorf and New York, as well as his family portraits. The artist who lives in Dusseldorf acquired his inspiration for his series of Museum Photographs while he was residing in Naples and Rome, where he discovered that there was a connection between paintings of art and religion and how these paintings connect audiences to their spirituality. The Museum Photographs, which was showcased at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, marshaled in a new visual language in the field of photography.
In his series, Struth photographed the art and the visitors viewing it, as well as the viewer observing other audiences. As such, with the many layers of observation, Struth’s intention was to assess the museum’s control of their audience and the criteria that each museum has for exhibiting pieces in the way that it does. The purpose behind the Museum Photographs was to remind people that the iconic subjects of his photographs were once just unfamiliar paintings done by ordinary individuals.
For instance, his Galleria dell’Accademia I, Venice piece shows regular tourists in shorts and casual clothing as they wander around an exhibition hall that is dominated by Paolo Veronese’s 1573 painting The Feast in the House of Levi. Struth’s color print is as large as Veronese’s painting, yet the scene in his photograph is reminiscent of memories of an outing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. He specifically selected Veronese’s interpretation of the Feast in the House of Levi as a subject because it had a feel of a regular dinner or lunch and it depicted a rather large party atmosphere where people have gathered to drink and make merry. As a result, his photograph of the feast allows today’s audiences to look upon the masterpiece with a new energy and perspective, just like the first time it was put on public display.
For the project, Struth utilized a European 13×18 camera, and he positioned himself strategically so that every photograph he took, whether inside a museum or in the crowded streets of Paris and Vienna, rendered onlookers in random areas, which gives his pictures more power.
In the end, he managed to create a dialogue between photography and paintings, where his choice of paintings echoes his earlier black and white work in Düsseldorf. He effectively manages to bridge the gap between space and time, where the figures in the painting and the figures observing the paintings are connected despite how much time has passed since the paintings were first made public or the space that exists between them.
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum I, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum II, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum III, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum VI, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Stanze di Raffaello 2, Rome, 1990
Thomas Struth – Art Institute of Chicago I, Chicago, 1990
Thomas Struth – Art Institute of Chicago II, Chicago, 1990
Thomas Struth – Galleria dell'Accademia I, Venice, 1992
Thomas Struth – Kunsthistorisches Museum III Wien, 1989
Thomas Struth – Louvre 1, Paris, 1989
Thomas Struth – Louvre 4, Paris, 1989
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – National Gallery I, London, 1989
Thomas Struth – National Gallery II, London, 2001
Thomas Struth – Alte Pinakothek, Self Portrait, Munich, 2000
Thomas Struth – Mountain, 2013
Who do you imagine and how do you materialize it?
The collection of Thomas Struth: full of dynamic creativity, unseeingly authenticity.
You’d definitely know it is inspired by a life beyond what our eyes can see. He made art in an angle where our minds depict an unimaginative reality that is correlated through the art of modern technology. The conceptualization was well thought in such a way that fantasies and imagination has materialized and has become a reality.
Every painting has a story, and Struth’s creative twist portrayed how the brain’s discovery and thoughts can be reflected in a work of art.
Thomas Struth – Canyon, 2013
The work is in carving out the frame in a certain way so that it has this ambiguity. The artifice of the place has a strange effect on the body-mind presence. It seems to be something in human nature to do this: Frederick the Great built a grotto at Potsdam; the Romantics built fake ruins. But Disney is where that really became an industry.
Thomas Struth – Pond, 2013
This was taken in It’s a Small World, but it doesn’t immediately make you think of Disney. It’s an odd environment—an artificial mix of things that’s a little bizarre. It’s beautiful but it makes you a little uncomfortable.
Thomas Struth – Ride, 2013
This [Indiana Jones Adventure] reminded me of being a child, and the Düsseldorf fairground on the banks of the Rhine. There was a ride called the Geisterbahn, in which skeletons drop out of the darkness. When you’re eight years old, it scares the shit out of you. The Indiana Jones movies are a great mix of everything: the Western, the adventure story, science fiction, the Arthurian legend. This is really the imperial ride—the coals of hellfire are glowing, and every fifteen minutes a huge flame shoots out of the bottom. It’s very dark, so it was a five-minute exposure. I was sick that week, but I worked all night on this picture. I was standing there at four o’clock in the morning, thinking, This is going to kill me.
ABOUT STRUTH’S WORKS IN KOREA
In March 2007, Thomas Struth went on a first trip to South Korea. He spent time in the two largest cities, Seoul and Busan, as well as visiting religious and cultural sites, important landscapes and shipyards. At the vast DSME shipyard on Geoje Island, one of the largest in the world, he photographed tankers under construction and an immense semi-submersible drilling rig. Struth made two further visits to South Korea in 2008 and 2010, as well as visiting Pyongyang in North Korea for the first time.
The new body of work can be seen to extend Struth’s fascination with complex visual structures combined with his ongoing interest in the structures and technologies humankind is able to imagine and build. Capturing scenes from several major Korean cities—including Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea—Thomas Struth‘s exhibition, Korea 2007-2010, draws attention to the dynamic relationship between humans and technological progress. Highlighting construction sites and production lines. The German artist’s stark photos are simultaneously somber yet optimistic for the rapid advancements, juxtaposing the new and old–or seeing one built right on top of the other.
Struth spoke of his: It is not easy to look at a country with an analytic view. When you look from an outsider’s view you can often notice the country’s difficult situations. I tried to capture all kinds of situations in my works. Here, the distribution industry is very active, numerous apartment buildings are under construction, there are beautiful views of the ocean and there is also the unique situation of the divided peninsula. I tried my best to be in closest contact with the energy within the society.
Under the Kim Jong-il regime, Struth’s North Korean experience was cold. Passersby on the streets stoically avoided eye contact, and the artist’s guide constantly thwarted his efforts to photograph the communist city lest a disrespectful image surface.
Some of the works in Korea 2007-2010 traveled Europe this past summer with Struth’s comprehensive retrospective, Photographs 1978-2010. A few of the Korean photos were also part of a separate exhibition at the Marian Goodman Gallery earlier this year, studying similar themes of social and technological progress across Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
ABOUT THOMAS STRUTH
Thomas Struth was born in Geldern, Germany in 1954. He went to the Düsseldorf Academy from 1974 until 1980. After he studied painting under Gerhard Richter, a celebrated German visual artist, he won a scholarship to work at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA PS1)in New York City during 1978. He is known around the world for his black and white photographs of big cities. Other notable work captures the details of skyscrapers, the landscape of modern Asian cities, and family portraits. Many of his photographs show the relationship between modern environments and all of their intricate complications.In1997 he was awarded the Spectrum International Photography Prize of Lower Saxony. His first solo exhibition was held in the United States at the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1990. A student of Gerhard Richter and Bernd and Hiller Becher, Struth is considered one of the most influential photographers of our time, along with his peers Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff.
ABOUT THOMAS STRUTH’S NEW PICTURES FROM PARADISE
Next to his well known Street and Museum Photographs, Thomas Struth has been taking pictures of forests in different parts of the world since 1998. By giving these images the title New Pictures from Paradise he has endowed them with a special meaning as pictures of nature before the Fall of Man. His attention focuses on wild nature, at the same time referencing and questioning representations of paradise throughout history and cultures.
Thomas Struth about these works in Artforum: My approach to the jungle pictures might be said to be new, in that my initial impulses were pictorial and emotional, rather than theoretical. They are “unconscious places” and thus seem to follow my early city pictures. These images contain a wealth of delicately branched information, which makes it almost impossible, especially in large formats, to isolate single forms. One can spend a lot of time in front of these pictures and remain helpless in terms of knowing how to deal with them. There is no socio-cultural context to be read or discovered, unlike in the photographs of people in front of paintings in museums. Standing in front of the facade of the cathedral in Milan, one experiences oneself as a human being defined by specific social and historical conditions. The jungle pictures, on the other hand, emphasize the self. Because of their consistent “all over” nature, they could be understood as membranes for meditation. They present a kind of empty space: emptied to elicit a moment of stillness and internal dialogue. You have to be able to enjoy this silence in order to communicate with yourself—and eventually with others.
In most of these photographs Struth doesn’t allow our gaze to penetrate the depth of the image. Trees, branches and leaves create a dense texture that prevents us from seeing the horizon and the depth of the landscapes, which can only be guessed. Without hierarchically structuring the picture, its entire surface is crisscrossed all over and covered by plant forms – reminiscent of the lines in paintings by Jackson Pollock and Brice Marden. Struth’s jungle pictures mark the beginning of a different approach to the way the surface of photographic images capture our gaze, sending it in different directions. Thanks to their richness of details, the images are presenting a kind of silence that can be listened to for a long time before one can get to know its rules. From the first documentary portraits of families, to the cityscapes, to the museums, up to the harmonic chaos of the jungles, Thomas Struth’s photographic eye has travelled the world finding new ways of representing its complexity, trying to capture the presence of the unconscious in the visible.
ABOUT THOMAS STRUTH
Thomas Struth is one of the leading artists in contemporary photography. Born in Geldern near Cologne in 1954, from 1973 to 1980 he studied at the Düsseldorf Academy as student of Gerhard Richter and then Bernd Becher. By the end of the Seventies, he started to explore the possibilities of photography as psychological research. Since 1978 he takes pictures of urban landscapes, from 1980 he photographs museum visitors looking at paintings, thus exploring the different relationships between painting and photography, art and the viewer. Later he works on a broader range of subjects, working always in theme groups.
Since his first museum exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in 1987, his work has been shown extensively in museums throughout the world. In 2003 the Metropolitan in New York staged a large retrospective, and recently he had exhibitions at the Prado in Madrid in 2007 and at the Museum Madre in Naples in Spring 2008. His works are in the collections of MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kunsthaus Zurich among many others.
Thomas Struth – Paradise 09, China, Provinz Yunnan, Xi Shuang Banna, 1999, C-Print
Thomas Struth – Paradise
Thomas Struth – Paradise
Thomas Struth – Paradise
Thomas Struth – Paradise
Thomas Struth – Paradise 11, Xishuang Banna, Yunnan Province, China, 1999
Thomas Struth – Paradise 23, São Francisco de Xavier, Brasil, 2001, Color coupler print, Diasec, 221×172.7cm