19.01.08 | 28.04.08
Louvre 4 Paris
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
In 1989 Struth began work on the famous cycle devoted to the visitors to big museums, establishing a complex critical discourse about the contemporary function of these places, on the use of the works exhibited and the potential of photography to construct images capable of questioning the role of art and putting it on the line. Printed on a monumental scale like murals, these works portray the heterogeneous crowds of visitors in the rooms of museums, establishing a sort of dialogue, on the one hand, between the pictures and the public portrayed in the photographs, and on the other with us who in our turn are gazing at these representations. This dialogue revives the value of the pictures reproduced, but at the same time records their transformation into fetishes of the culture industry. Almost like a sociologist of contemporary society, Struth studies the social and cultural experience of the museum, analyzing the behaviour of crowds intent on the most varied activities: enchanted before a work or intently listening to a guide, lost in their thoughts or distracted by their neighbours. Viewed close up we read in their faces wonder and boredom, uncertainty and emotion, fatigue and haste and suddenly everything seems clear: these places are the striking portrayal of our contemporaneity. The photographs, enlarged but hardly ever touched up digitally, reveal without mystifications the reality of the present captured by the lens during long and patient ambuscades. While photography forms the link between architecture, painting and the human presence, the public, not the painting or the building, is the true protagonist of these lively theatrical scenes. All the more so because in many cases the perspective is on the side of the work, as if the artist were viewing the public from a privileged point of view. Through the graphic medium he grasps the special relationship established between the visitor and the masterpiece displayed in the museum, like the intimate three-way conversation captured in Kunsthistorisches Museum 3 (Wien 1989) or the relaxed pose of the group before the tragic shipwreck of Théodor Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa in Louvre 4 (Paris 1989), which prompts complex observations about the true dramatic power of the works of the past in a numbing age of multimedia hegemony. While in Art Institute of Chicago 1 (Chicago 1990) the motionless visitors before Georges Seurat’s La Grande Jatte repeat the paused and calm rhythmsof the Pointillist composition, in the series of the Stanze di Raffaello (Rom 1990) the swift and chaotic pace of the crowd which throngs the Stanza della Segnatura clashes with the complexity and solemnity of the subjects dealt with in the frescoes. In Museo del Prado 8 (Madrid 2005), finally, the artist succeeds in relating a work of 1656 like Diego Velásquez’s Las Meninas to a public of young people and adults, creating an interplay of glances that move from the figures portrayed in the painting to those portrayed in the photograph and finally leading to us. As if to say that we observe art, but in the same way art observes us.
Born at Geldern in 1954, Thomas Struth began his artistic training by studying painting under Peter Kleemann and Gerhard Richter at the Kunstakademie of Düsseldorf ...
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