Thomas Struth: Museum Photographs
From Generation to Generation: Important Photographs from the Ames Collection
Diasec-mounted, framed, the photographer's label, signed in ink and with typed title, date, and edition number, on the reverse, no. 7 in an edition of 10.
From the Catalogue:
‘My own work is about different situations in which people find themselves. About streets as public space, where specific and collective attitudes affect us every day, where architecture represents society and culture as the dynamic of the group. . . . About people visiting a historic monument as mass - tourists and yet as unique persons’ (Thomas Struth, ‘Artist’s Statement,’ Carnegie International 1991, Carnegie Museum of Art, 1991, vol. 1, p. 126).
Mailänder Dom (Fassade), Mailand (Milan Cathedral Façade, Milan) is an unequivocal masterpiece from Thomas Struth's seminal ‘Place of Worship’ series and a culmination of the most salient elements of the photographer’s previous photographs. Struth’s notable past efforts included his early black-and-white images of barren street scenes in Europe and New York in the 1970s and 1980s, which were heavily influenced by his studies with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (see Lot 1). In his subsequent ‘Museum Photographs’ series (1989-1990), Struth trained his camera on anonymous gallery visitors and began an in-depth exploration of the complex interconnection between art, the artist, and the voyeur. While working on ‘Museum Photographs,’ the German-born Catholic Struth lived in Italy and experienced firsthand the strong connection between painting and religion.
In ruins or splendor, the architecture of religious sites was not only a key component of Old Master painting but also of immediate interest to photographers upon the medium’s invention. The composition of Struth’s 20th century Mailänder Dom (Fassade), Mailand (Milan Cathedral Façade, Milan) evokes Louis-Auguste Bisson and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson’s 19th century view of Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (circa 1853) (cf. Fig. 1). Both photographs share a frontal, imposing, and somewhat claustrophobic composition that triumphs the old and minimizes modernity.
Unlike the Bisson Frères’s figureless architectural study, Struth’s depiction of the Milan Cathedral is teeming with life, from the people seated on the stairs to the man on his cell phone to the tourist photographing the façade. Struth illustrates everyday life in the shadows of the cathedral just as the Milanese painter Carlo Canella had done a century prior (cf. Fig. 2). Like other artists working in the capriccio, or architectural fantasy tradition of landscape painting, Canella and Struth show the cathedral as a backdrop for a lively, spirited city life. Through Struth’s lens, however, the Milan Cathedral is no mere backdrop. The massive marble façade looming over the crowd and possessing three-fourths of the picture plane becomes a key character in this photograph, a witness to nearly seven centuries of history juxtaposed with the present.
Struth’s monumental, commanding color photographs from this period are now his recognizable calling card. With Mailänder Dom, Struth became a leading figure of a new form of photography, one that could realistically claim to take the baton from historical painting by confronting antiquated modes of expression and depicting cityscapes with a rigorous, modern aesthetic.
Prints of this image have been featured in nearly every major exhibition and publication on Struth’s work to date. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, one of the great repositories of Struth’s photographs, acquired a print of this image in 2000, and celebrated this image in advertisements for the photographer’s recent 2014-15 retrospective.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's
My Portrait - Thomas Struth (Tokyo: The National Museum of Modern Art, 2000), p. 129
Douglas Eklund, Ann Goldstein, Maria Morris Hambourg, and Charles Wylie, Thomas Struth 1977-2002 (Dallas Museum of Art, 2002), p. 93
Hans Belting, Walter Grasskamp, and Claudia Seidel, Museum Photographs: Thomas Struth (Munich, 2005), p. 73
Thomas Struth (Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina of Naples, 2008), pp. 34-5 and 37
Anette Kruszynski, Tobia Bezzola, and James Lingwood, eds., Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978-2010 (New York, 2010), p. 88
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 1999
Thomas Struth takes mesmerizing photographs that express his belief in photography as “a tool of scientific origin for psychological exploration.” He began taking pictures in 1976, influenced by his studies with three of the most important contemporary German artists of the time—painter and mixed media artist Gerhard Richter and photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. After his early black-and-white series of deadpan views of cityscapes eerily devoid of any signs of urban life, in 1989, Struth began work on his best-known cycle, the “Museum Photographs.” In these large-format, color-saturated photographs, Struth captures individuals and crowds looking at famous works of Western art in the world’s most popular museums. While looking at the “Museum Photographs,” viewers are confronted with the act of looking itself and the social complexities of seeing and being seen.
German, b. 1954, Geldern, Germany, based in Düsseldorf, Germany