dinsdag 16 januari 2018

Views & Reviews Museum Photographs 10 Things You Should Know About Thomas Struth Photography

Thomas Struth
Galleria dell'Accademia
Venice 1992
184.5 x 228.3 cm

On Thomas Struth's "Museum Photographs"
by Phyllis Tuchman

The conceptual aspects of Thomas Struth's photographs are not readily apparent in the much lauded mid-career survey of his work now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (after stops at the Dallas Museum of Art and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the organizing institutions). What did Struth intend when he took pictures of deserted city streets, portraits of families from around the world, crowded churches and dense forests where it's likely that no one hears the sound of a tree falling?

The 49-year old artist, who lives in Dsseldorf where he studied with both painter Gerhard Richter and photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, revealed his intelligent, clear-headed approach to taking pictures in a public lecture as well as a private interview he held in New York after a snowstorm last February. When, for example, he discusses the engaging situations of actual gallery-goers looking at photographs of other gallery-goers looking at paintings, he has a lot to say about his work not found in the critical literature on it.

Says Struth, "I wanted to remind my audience that when art works were made, they were not yet icons or museum pieces." "When a work of art becomes fetishized," the affable, articulate artist points out, "it dies." Struth feels the paintings in his museum photographs regain aspects of their original vitality when seen anew in the context he renders so seamlessly.

Consider Galleria dell'Accademia I, Venice, a picture of tourists in shorts, jeans and short-sleeved shirts who carry cameras, tote bags and guidebooks as they wander around a display hall dominated at one end by a painting from 1573 by Paolo Veronese that's as big as a movie screen. At six feet across and more than seven feet tall, Struth's own color print from 1992 is supersized. It's not the sort of snapshot you'd have developed by a drugstore chain or even at a local lab. Yet this native of Dsseldorf has endowed his scene with the kind of immediacy associated with memories of weekend outings. He makes you believe you are there -- or that you have been there or somewhere else like it.

Struth, though, wasn't interested in making a picture postcard-like souvenir. He chose Veronese's interpretation of the Feast in the House of Levi because he loves the way the Venetian master depicted "a party scene with a big table where people eat and drink." "It's a dinner or brunch," the photographer says. "It's so Italian; and so enjoyable." With his eye for a captivating composition, his steady finger with a shutter and his mind set for philosophical concerns, Struth used "today's visitors" to energize Veronese's masterpiece. When viewed alongside spectators at the Academia who move about -- several are blurs -- and others who lean against a blue radiator, Veronese's figures at a banquet appear to be just as lively and dynamic, perhaps even more so. Certainly, they're better dressed.

In more than two dozen photographs Struth expressed his "interest in the fate of art in museums." Are picture galleries, he asks, "like cemeteries or a living organism where people can nourish themselves about aspects of human existence?" While he didn't become a conceptual artist like many of his contemporaries -- he just wasn't all that interested in theory per se -- he treats themes that appeal to his intellect.

Using a European 13 x 18 camera, which is somewhat comparable to an American 5 x 7, Struth, in the past, would wait for hours or even days to get his shot. At the Louvre, for example, he depicted a group of people in a formation that echoes the ship wrecked survivors clustered by Theodore Gericault on The Raft of the Medusa. There's even a chord of irony as a woman with a fashionable coat and a Louis Vuitton handbag contemplates a painting of distraught men who eventually would succumb to cannibalism. Struth positioned himself at the Art Institute of Chicago in front of an angled Paris street scene by Gustave Caillebotte so that he not only managed to render onlookers in positions as random as the pedestrians depicted by the contemporary of the Impressionists, but to also add another thoroughfare to his own lexicon of avenues and boulevards. In this instance, the figures in the painting are more active than their real life counterparts.

And then there's the photograph Struth took of a crowd filling a space at the Vatican decorated by Raphael. Did any High Renaissance painter or Pope ever expect the Sistine Chapel or the rooms leading to it to become a major museum destination? Amidst all the hurly-burly in Struth's print, the religious paintings on the wall are restored to the world of contemplation, peace and reverence they represent. In a more recent work -- Struth doesn't think he'll take many more museum photographs -- the German artist renders one of his most astonishing images -- a painting by Vermeer with no one around it.

Although Struth loves the work of Piet Mondrian, he wasn't satisfied with his views of people looking at abstractions by the Dutch Modernist master. He also didn't like what he got when he worked with the bright, color fields of the American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman. He's come to realize he needs figures to respond to other figures. That's a major part of how he achieves a dialogue between two media -- painting and photography. Besides the appeal of his work, there's another challenge packed into his art. Struth wants to make people more aware of how to read a picture while also taking into consideration the intention of the photographer. To be sure, the museum series can be interpreted as variously as the works of art depicted in them.

PHYLLIS TUCHMAN publishes regularly in the Smithsonian, Town & Country and other journals.


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

10 Things You Should Know About Thomas Struth

Picture of Andrea Hak

Andrea Hak
Updated: 12 April 2017
Thomas Struth is fast becoming one of the most influential artists in modern photography. He has photographed cities ranging from his native Düsseldorf to Tokyo, New York and Rome. Later becoming famous for his family portraits, he has photographed families from all over the world including Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 2011. We explore ten things you should know about Thomas Struth.

Crosby Street, Soho, New York, 1978 | © Thomas Struth, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum New York

Struth was originally a painter
Born in Geldern, Germany, in 1954, Thomas Struth studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf between 1973 and 1980. Though he has become famous for his photographs, Struth originally studied to be a painter. The influence of his initial interest in painting is clearly event in the composition of his photographs and the subject matter for his later projects. His Museum Photographs are particularly demonstrative of his passion for painting, whilst his family portraits are reminiscent of Renaissance portraiture.

Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin | © PROcea +/Flickr

Early influences
Based on the subjects and style of his paintings, Struth’s professor Gerhard Richter encouraged him to enroll in the Kunstakademie’s new photography class, taught by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Playing with an emerging artistic medium, the Becher’s students – including Struth, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höffer and Andreas Gursky – became big names in modern German photography. The Becher’s themselves are credited for leading the development of modern European photography with their fascination in aging industrial structures of Germany’s past. They greatly encouraged Struth’s interest in photography as a medium for exploring subjects in an interdisciplinary manner. Their works also had a marked impact on Struth’s initial series of photographs and his later series on modern industrial architecture.

Cityscapes: Linking the subject to the historical context
Struth’s first photographs were predominately of empty cityscapes in Düsseldorf. Though the streets he selected may seem unremarkable at first, Struth was attempting to document the emergence of post-war urban city structures in Germany. These early works can be viewed as a social and political analysis of the particular time and place in which the photographs were taken, thereby emphasizing the connection between the individual and the historical context they inhabit. The Düsseldorf photographs particularly demonstrated the impact of the war on German cityscapes, focusing on the individuals living in a post-war context. Struth later went onto photograph cityscapes in Edinburgh, New York, Rome and Tokyo, each focusing on different social, political and historical factors evident in these photos.

Tien An Men, Beijing, 1997 | © Thomas Struth, Gift of Graciela and Neal Meltzer, 2002, The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Family Portraits
Departing from his strict focus on cities and urban spaces, Struth began a series of family photographs in the 1980s. This work was largely influenced by a research project he conducted with psychoanalyst Ingo Hartmann in 1982. Hartmann had previously begun analyzing the family photographs of his patients believing they could give him a deeper look into their personal lives and psyche. The project sparked Struth’s interest in the historical, social and psychological aspects that can be inferred from family photographs. As such, this was also a personal project for Struth. Born in post-war Germany, many people of his generation grew up questioning the role of their families. For Struth, this project was more than artwork – it was also a study into the underlying social and contextual elements influencing the family unit at that particular point in time.

Later in his career, Struth began a new project which converged his past influences. In his Museum Photographs, Struth began capturing images of tourists visiting famous works of art, from the Louvre to the Vatican. In these photographs, Struth was able to encompass his past interests into one image, allowing the viewer to analyze the photographs from different perspectives. Combining his passion for painting with his interest in space and time, his photographs question the idea of the modern museum – are museums the place where art goes to die? Or do they find new life through the interplay of onlookers? Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the modern tourists in front of the historic paintings raises questions about the concept of time. Finally, the photograph asks what conclusions can be draw about the spectator viewing a photograph in a museum that depicts others viewing a painting in a museum?

Pantheon, Rome, 1990, © Thomas Struth | courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Seeing what David sees
Influenced by this previous work, Struth captured a new series of photographs in 2004. This time, instead of having the famous artwork at the center of the picture, photographs were taken from the perspective of Michelangelo’s ‘David’. By focusing on the faces of the spectators, the museum experience is again shown from a different perspective. With these photographs, it is possible to view a range of different emotions on the faces of the audience – emotions evoked by the artwork alone. It thereby captures the psychological impact of the work as it is seen in that specific point in time. Similarly, he also took a series of photographs from the perspective of Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Madonna with a Flower’ in the Hermitage Museum.

The Restorers at San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples | Courtesy of the MET Museum

Places of worship
In another series of photographs Struth began to explore a new interest in religious worship. Beginning with pictures of the San Zaccaria in Venice, Struth began photographing religious figures and cathedrals everywhere from Paris to Lima. In these photographs, he was interested in demonstrating the emotion and reactions of individuals to religious places and artworks, highlighting the imposing iconic power of religious sights such as the Notre Dame in Paris. Along with cathedrals, temples and churches he also took photographs of ‘secular places of worship’ including the portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square and a giant advert in Times Square. Comparing the reactions of tourists to religious sights and museums again raises questions of the what psychological impact these places and artworks have on individuals.

In 1990, Struth was commissioned to take photographs for patients’ rooms in a private hospital in Zurich. Keeping in mind the place and the purpose his photographs would occupy, the resulting images took on a new direction. Instead of looking to his past and personal influences, Struth asked himself what his audience, the hospital’s patients would be missing from the outside world. This led Struth to focus on close ups of flowers and natural landscapes. His individual photographs of cherry blossoms, sunflowers, violets, tulips and roses demonstrated a sensitive treatment of the subject, focusing on one individual flower and enhancing the color whilst gently fading the background. A book containing these photographs entitled the Dandelion Room was published in 2001.

Thomas Struth, El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, 1999 | ©Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology’s photostream/Flickr

In his New Pictures from Paradise series, Struth again took nature as his subject. For Struth the most important part of this series was not necessarily to draw attention to political, psychological or social factors represented in his photographs. By encircling the viewer with complex photographs of jungles and forests in Japan, Peru, Australia and Germany, Struth attempts to transport his viewers into a realm of quiet self-contemplation. This greatly diverges from his Museum Photographs, which drew attention to the emotions of others.

New Works
Struth’s latest works focus on science, technology and the human imagination. This series began after his first visits to South Korea where he began photographing the DSME shipyard. This expanded to photographs of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and other centers for research and technology in Germany, Greece, Argentina, North and South Korea, Israel, Scotland and the US. Among these, he also included photographs of Disneyland in California as an example of human imagination. His focus on modern industrial works bare a resemblance to those of his early professors Bernd and Hilla Becher, yet when looking at photos such as the imposing Semi Submersible Rig in the South Korean shipyard, one can’t help but recall the powerful looming presence of Notre Dame from his ‘Places of Worship’ series. Unlike his street photographs in Düsseldorf, they do not mark a historical comparison but stand as documentation of the height of contemporary technological innovation.

Thomas Struth
Musée du Louvre IV
Paris 1989
184 x 217 cm

Thomas Struth
Art Institute of Chicago II
Chicago 1990
184 x 219 cm

Thomas Struth
Museo del Vaticano I
Rome 1990
168 x 208 cm.

Geen opmerkingen: