National Museum of Art, Tokyo

Thomas Struth German

Not on view

Throughout the 1990s Struth photographed people in museums, cathedrals, and other shrines that function as tourist meccas for the secular religion of art. The subject of this work is half of a Japanese-French exchange of treasures. The Japanese sent their prized eighth-century bodhisattva from Nara to the Louvre, where it was encased in bulletproof glass and displayed in an incongruously ornate Second Empire gallery. Struth's photograph shows the French contribution, also behind glass, in the hall the Japanese designed to exhibit it.
Quintessentially Gallic, Delacroix's 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People is a hymn to the supreme rights of the individual, shot through with sex and high drama. The mise-en-scène, however, is an uncanny reflection of late twentieth-century spectacle culture - the movie theater, where the crowd passively absorbs images on a glowing screen. Yet, Struth is not simply demonstrating the collision between Delacroix's characters, who rush forward into history, and those who are immobilized in the face of it; he also discerns a respectful distance on the part of the Japanese toward their visitor, an appreciation of difference and cultural specificity that is a key to this artist's work.

National Museum of Art, Tokyo, Thomas Struth (German, born Geldern, 1954), Chromogenic print

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