By Tanya Silverman
Pantheon, Rome. By Thomas Struth. 1990. Private collection, New York. Copyright Thomas Struth.
You find yourself studying the ways that patrons carry themselves when they tour the Pantheon in Rome. Strangely enough, you’re examining these subjects while you yourself stroll through the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
The instance does not occur from your unexpected stumbling into a meta-museum portal, but rather, your entrance into the current exhibit, Thomas Struth: Photographs.
Pantheon, Rome, which illustrates how tiny tourists appear inside the structure’s rotund, monumental magnificence, is part of this German artist’s 1989-1992 conceptual series, Museum Photographs. He documented spectators inside other famous places like the Louvre or Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Crosby Street, Soho, New York. By Thomas Struth. 1978. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Henry S. Hacker, 1982. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.1053.1). Copyright Thomas Struth.
Adjacently hangs a grid of 12 noticeably smaller and older black-and-white prints from Struth’s portfolio project, The Streets of New York, which come desolate and uninviting. Curator Doug Eklund explains that Struth captured these urban architectural shots in 1978, early in the mornings. The artist “would go out when there were no cars or people and stand in the middle of the street with his view camera” to capture the blocky vortexes.
Hot Rolling Mill, ThyssenKrupp Steel, Duisburg. 2010. Chromogenic Print. Purchase, The Rosenkranz Foundation Gift and Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2014 The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2014.288). Copyright Thomas Struth.
Eklund continues that over the past few years, Struth has grown interested in “how technology has come to replace art, almost, in the popular communication,” affecting the ways we express and represent ourselves. The curator references a separate Struth show that was replete with “robotic labs and entangled wires.” Hot Rolling Mill, ThyssenKrupp Steel, Duisburg hanging in the Met thus presents an immense industrial machine where zones of underlying red and green surfaces shine out through the dark soot and dim atmosphere.
Arguably, the most striking example of Struth’s work in the exhibit is the newest: an inkjet print, Figure 2, Charite, Berlin (2014), where a lone woman lays on a cot in a surgical room. The unnamed patient, who is implicitly unconscious, is eerily bathed in fluorescent lighting. An extensive network of plastic tubes and gnarly wires connects her to an arrangement of surrounding medical machinery. Her human vulnerability is uncannily highlighted by the array of machine dials, knobs, and screens that face the viewer.
Also featuring a portrait of elderly art collectors, a landscape of a lush, mossy Japanese jungle, and a cityscape of Times Square’s electrified commercial luminescence, Thomas Struth: Photographs offers a motley thematic sampler of the artist’s ongoing career.