FASTER THAN PAINTING: Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth (German, b. 1955) studied painting at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie 1973-77, where he was a student of Gerhard Richter and Hilla and Bernd Becher. His is the highest profile member of a group of German photographers, including Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Jeff Wall, and Thomas Ruff—who work in the medium of monumental color photography using large format cameras and emulsion film. He is currently based in Berlin and New York.

The following quotations were culled from a profile written by Janet Malcomb for The New Yorker in 2011:

On his experience as an entering student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in 1973:

When I came there, it was a shock to realize that I had to regard art as a serious activity and develop a serious artistic practice. Painting and drawing was no longer my hobby, a private activity that I enjoyed. It was something that had categories. Artists were people who took positions and represented certain social and political attitudes. It was an intense experience to realize this. There was very intense judgment by the students—who is doing something interesting and who is an idiot painting lemons as if he were living in the time of Manet and Cézanne.

On painting versus photography:

After I started taking photographs from which I would make my paintings, I realized that the photograph already does it. The photograph already shows what I want to show. So why make a painting that takes me five months to finish and then it looks like a photograph?

On the limitations of the photographic image:

Some of the pictures don’t show what I was thinking. For instance, when I went to Cape Canaveral as a tourist I was struck with the sense of the space program as an instrument of power. When, as a state, you demonstrate that you are able to do that, it contributes to cultural dominance. I hadn’t realized this before. But when I went there to photograph I saw that it is something you cannot put into a photograph.

A note on the source article:

Early on in her profile of Thomas Struth, Janet Malcomb seems to say that because critical response to Struth has been uniformly positive, she will respond negatively on principle. Throughout her article, Malcomb exhibits a very palpable, and inappropriate hostility to Struth, insulting, criticizing and correcting him at every turn. She deplores castigates critics who admire his work; she misinterprets his photographs; makes middle-brow jokes about his work, and ends the article on a note of particular malice by belittling his recent portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip and then raving about a casual snapshot of Struth, the Queen and the Duke taken by Struth’s assistant after the shoot. She ends by reminding Struth that the Queen had not made her opinion of his portrait known, and then implies he is shallow for caring her opinion, when she was the one who brought it up.

The New Yorker profile is not the right venue for mounting revisionist interpretations of an artist’s work, and, based on her comments on artists, photography and critics, Malcomb would not be the best person to mount that revision.

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