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Thomas Struth

Exhibition Dates: February 4—May 18, 2003
Exhibition Location: Special Exhibition Galleries, First Floor
Press Preview: Monday, February 3, 10 a.m.—noon

Seventy works—many grandly scaled—by photographer Thomas Struth (German, born 1954), one of the most acclaimed artists to emerge from Europe in the past two decades, will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 4 through May 18, 2003. From his early black-and-white streetscapes of European and American cities to his recent mural-sized color views of primeval landscapes in Asia, Australia, and South America, Struth's superb photographs explore the traditions and the actual conditions of our world on the cusp of this newly global millennium.

The exhibition is made possible in part by Philip Morris Companies Inc.

Additional support has been provided by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund.

The exhibition was organized by the Dallas Museum of Art.

Thomas Struth will offer a comprehensive view of this prominent artist's work, including images never before seen in the United States. Many examples from the landmark Museum series—large-scale color photographs of people in museums and other cultural meccas—will be included, as well as Struth's mesmerizing individual and family portraits, rapturous flower studies and landscapes, and dizzying, wall-size views of architectural and technological artifice from Times Square to Las Vegas. A spectacular highlight of this exhibition will be projections of the artist's video portraits in the Museum's Great Hall—the first time in the Metropolitan's history that the work of a living artist will be featured in this grand public space.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: "Over the last 25 years, Thomas Struth has been a key figure in not only bringing photography into the mainstream of contemporary art, but also imbuing his medium with the scale and ambition of great art from the past. His Museum pictures especially are masterpieces of observation that reach a sublime level of color saturation and detail that, to my eye, are unequaled except in painting."

In the late 1970s, Struth studied with the legendary husband-and-wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Academy, and was the first artist to fully exploit their typological approach to photography, where a single, archetypal subject is described through an accumulation of diverse examples. This rigorous analytical method would also characterize the work of Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky, and other younger German photographers who studied with the Bechers. In his first black-and-white photographs of urban streets, Struth used the anonymous, centralized perspective and comparative technique of his professors to make visible the structure, texture, history, and mood of cities from London and Edinburgh to New York and Paris.

During the following decade, the artist extended his project to other great cities of Western and Eastern Europe, America, and Asia, creating distinctive portraits of place that chart the historical transformations affecting our urban environments. From a forest of skyscrapers and signs in Tokyo to a German roundabout laced with shopping malls and luxury shops, these precise and prescient images show the first glimmers of a world on the verge of globalization. In addition to many of these works in the main exhibition, nearly 30 additional examples will be shown in the Museum's second floor Howard Gilman Gallery in the installation Thomas Struth: Streets. Of special note in this part of the exhibition will be a complete presentation of Struth's groundbreaking Streets of New York (1978), an extremely rare set of images not seen since its initial appearance at P.S. 1 in New York 25 years ago.

In the mid-1980s, Struth's stunning portraits of individuals and families began to appear—black-and-white and color images that emerged from months and sometimes years of on-and-off discussion in which the artist and his willing subjects together developed precisely how the subjects wished to be seen. Struth also uses relatively long exposure times—sometimes for up to eight seconds—for added clarity of detail and to lend a hypnotic, slow-motion intensity to his sitters' gazes. In their overall structure and effects, the family portraits strikingly resemble the artist's views of streets: whether people or buildings, the individual elements are poised so that each part is both autonomous and inextricably bound to the others and to their shared site.

Struth's most celebrated photographs belong to the so-called Museum series —monumental color images of people visiting and viewing art in churches, temples, museums, and other cultural destinations throughout the world, including the National Museum in Tokyo, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Vatican, the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, and the National Gallery of Art, London, among others. Comparable in scale and ambition to many of the art works and Old Master paintings depicted in them, Struth's Museum photographs are richly imbued with poetic eloquence. Whether capturing the quality of morning light in a Venetian church that pulses with the glorious radiance of its paintings, or mapping the chance symmetry between a group of visitors to the Louvre and the shipwrecked figures in Théodore Géricault's painting Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), Struth effortlessly and seamlessly interweaves the timeless with the ephemeral and the spiritual with the real. In showing people looking at art, Struth makes viewers of his photographs aware of their own active participation in the completion of the work's meaning, not as passive consumers but as re-interpreters of the past for the needs of the present. Maria Morris Hambourg and Douglas Eklund, Curator in Charge and Research Associate in the Metropolitan's Department of Photographs respectively, and co-curators of the exhibition, noted in the exhibition's catalogue the uncanny power and restorative potential of these images. "Because the Museum photographs double our experience in front of the work of art, they trigger a remarkable feeling of stepping into one's own skin again, while alienation from others and from history—the curse of the modern—is dissolved in the image."

Recently, Struth has exhibited vast, mural-sized color photographs of subtropical forest and jungle landscapes from around the world under the collective name Paradise. In these almost overwhelmingly sumptuous photographs, the artist brings order to dense fields of trees, lush vegetation, and mossy undergrowth from China and Japan to Australia and Brazil. Triggered by reflection upon the fall of the Berlin Wall, Struth's half-ironic titling refers to our continual quest for a restored purity in our world, for an Edenic blank slate from which to proceed. As such, the Paradise pictures cast a retrospective glance over the artist's previous views of churches and museum galleries—places where the spiritual aspirations of the past as reflected in great works of art intersect with the changing needs of a perpetual present—suggesting a space where the ineffable and the pragmatic are reconciled.

Unseen in the United States until now, Thomas Struth's One Hour Video Portraits will be shown in an installation designed by the artist for the Museum's entrance hall, or Great Hall. In the mesmerizing video portraits, the artist shows the heads and shoulders of friends and colleagues gazing calmly at the camera, and by extension, at us; they are steady and unmoving except for occasional blinks of the eyelids and other small, involuntary muscular events, and such subtleties as the fading of the day's light, the gentle lift of a strand of hair in a passing breeze, and other initially imperceptible occurrences. Measuring 14 feet high and 24 feet across, the monumental portraits are in perfect scale with the grand architecture of the hall and function as uncannily lifelike frescoes, greeting museum-goers and awakening their own act of looking before they enter the galleries. Reducing the entire vocabulary of art to its simplest premise—to look, to see, and to reflect—the video portraits invite discernment, receptivity, and calm self-reflection. Struth's beautifully restrained use of the medium combines the contemplative stasis of painting with photography's embrace of the quotidian and fleeting.

About the Exhibition Thomas Struth is curated at the Metropolitan by Maria Morris Hambourg, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs and Douglas Eklund, Research Associate.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated book entitled Thomas Struth: 1977-2002 (Dallas Museum of Art/Yale University Press, 2002) with essays by Charles Wylie, Ann Goldstein, and by Maria Morris Hambourg and Douglas Eklund. Conceived and designed by Thomas Struth, it is a large-scale, richly illustrated, and elegant hardcover book, and the most complete representation of the artist's work to date. It is available in the Metropolitan Museum's book shop for $50.00.

A variety of programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition. Evan Parker, the legendary free jazz saxophonist (and friend of the artist) hailed by the authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD as "one of the finest and most virtuosic instrumentalists working in improvised music today," will make a rare American appearance on Friday, February 7, at 8:00 p.m. A film series titled World Cinema: Thomas Struth Selects will feature a selection of films chosen by the artist because of their relevance to his work: Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World (Germany, 1991), Federico Fellini's Amarcord (Italian, 1973), Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (Japan, 1954), Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief (Italian, 1948) and F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (Germany, 1921). Gallery talks and teacher workshops will also accompany the exhibition.

An Audio Guide tour will be available; rental fees are $5 for Museum members, $6 for nonmembers, and $4 for children under 12.

The Museum's Web site (www.metmuseum.org) will feature the exhibition.

The Audio Guide program is sponsored by Bloomberg.

The exhibition was on view at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, before its showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Subsequently it will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (June 28 – September 28, 2003).

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