16 August 2010

Thomas Struth at Kunsthaus Zürich

The Kunsthaus Zürich is currently hosting a beautiful selection of Struth prints in the exhibition Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978-2010, which runs through 12 September. The show contains works from across Struth's career, including beautiful examples of paradise, flowers, families, museums and audiences.

The majority of the works are of an epic scale - almost life-size, it seems - and are impossibly detailed. Their size could be overbearing, but the Kunsthaus installation is sparse, with almost zero text. This allows each work to bear its own weight, as it were, both alone and within its series. In addition, the open-ended rooms, without enforced routes between them, create interesting links amongst the series themselves.

It is significant that an exhibition containing works that seem to interrogate so overtly not only the museum-system but also the behaviour of museum visitors, is not at pains to provide hints or prompts to punters seeking 'meaning' in a work of art. This exhibition is not telling you what to think, rather leaving things as open as the eyes that stare out from the exhibiton's opening photographs at some unknown museum-piece - and by extension at us. The Kunsthaus curators should really be praised for their discretion.

It is worth asking what these people standing in the Louvre or the Pergamon Museum were thinking when Struth photographed their backs as they stared at some famous painting or sculpture. It is also worth asking what these people standing in the National Gallery or the Prado staring out of Struth's photographs into the Kunsthaus are looking at. Also, what is a giant photograph of La Liberté Guidant le Peuple by Eugène Delacroix doing in a Thomas Struth exhibition? Did he ask permission to take photographs of all these famous paintings? Is it OK to experience the Pantheon through a photograph? And what does it mean to look at a 'work of art', anyway?

These are questions we should ask.


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