Throwback: Thomas Struth & a new visual language in photography

Thomas Struth - Pantheon, Rome, 1990
Thomas StruthPantheon, Rome, 1990

What is Thomas Struth known for?

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.

Why are the ‘Museum Photographs’ important?

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.

Struth’s intention

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 intended 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.

Analysis

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 15731 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.

Which camera did he use?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Museum photos

Austria & Germany

Thomas Struth - Pergamon Museum I, Berlin, 2001
Thomas StruthPergamon Museum I, Berlin, 2001

Thomas Struth - Pergamon Museum II, Berlin, 2001
Thomas StruthPergamon Museum II, Berlin, 2001

Thomas Struth - Pergamon Museum III, Berlin, 2001
Thomas StruthPergamon Museum III, Berlin, 2001

Thomas Struth - Pergamon Museum VI, Berlin, 1996
Thomas StruthPergamon Museum VI, Berlin, 2001

Thomas Struth - Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin, 2001
Thomas StruthPergamon Museum IV, Berlin, 2001

Thomas Struth - Alte Pinakothek, Self Portrait, Munich, 2000
Thomas StruthAlte Pinakothek, Self Portrait, Munich, 2000

Thomas Struth - Kunsthistorisches Museum III Wien, 1989
Thomas StruthKunsthistorisches Museum III Wien, 1989

Italy

Thomas Struth - Stanze di Raffaello 2, Rome, 1990
Thomas StruthStanze di Raffaello 2, Rome, 1990

Thomas Struth - Galleria dell'Accademia I, Venice, 1992
Thomas StruthGalleria dell'Accademia I, Venice, 1992

Chicago

Thomas Struth - Art Institute of Chicago I, Chicago, 1990
Thomas StruthArt Institute of Chicago I, Chicago, 1990

Thomas Struth - Art Institute of Chicago II, Chicago, 1990
Thomas StruthArt Institute of Chicago II, Chicago, 1990

Paris

Thomas Struth - Louvre 1, Paris, 1989
Thomas StruthLouvre 1, Paris, 1989

Thomas Struth - Louvre 4, Paris, 1989
Thomas StruthLouvre 4, Paris, 1989

London

Thomas Struth - National Gallery 1, London, 1989
Thomas StruthNational Gallery I, London, 1989

Thomas Struth - National Gallery II, London, 2001
Thomas StruthNational Gallery II, London, 2001

All photos courtesy of the artist Thomas Struth/thomasstruth32.com unless otherwise noted.

Video: Photography critic Francis Hodgson introduces Struth’s work

7min 31sec

Related works

Related readings

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Feast_in_the_House_of_Levi
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