Monday, January 5, 2009

Thomas Struth ... continued...

I swear I didn't know, but admit I should have known, when I wrote my reflections on the Audience series in Düsseldorf, that Struth actually photographed the swarm of crowds before Velasquez' masterpiece, Las Meninas, in the Prado. The series is another of his museum series now on display in the Objectivités. La photographie à Düsseldorf at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

When I saw these yesterday, I once again found the series compelling, as compelling, maybe more so then in Düsseldorf because it was more comfortably hung. However, I was struck by the fact that all the same questions and issues came up for me as I pondered the Museo del Prado series. Looking at the boy in the front who is way more interested in Struth's camera than he is in Velasquez' painting, or the waving hand of the tour guide that alerts the group to what's necessary to see in las Meninas, the young men in the foreground who use the opportunity to talk amongst themselves, even the tourists who prefer to see this extraordinary work through their own digital camera lens, I am again reminded of the practices of looking and not looking that are handed out to us by the museum and the culture industry alike. The same contradictory, unfathomable behaviors, poses and gazes are in operation before Las Meninas as they are in the presence of the absent David in the Audience series.

And so, I began to wonder whether or not Struth's practice was somewhat limited, at least as it relates to these museum photographs. Does the identity of the painting or even the museum for that matter change the dynamics of Struth's photographs? My companion to the Musée d'Art Moderne wanted each Struth image to raise new questions and explore new ground determined by the differing relationships between audience and individual art works. However, I am not so convinced. Surely the point of Struth's photographs is the very ignorance of the painting, or at best, the highly codified ways of looking (and not looking) when we are in an art gallery, especially before such revered works as Las Meninas? Ultimately then, Struth's photographs may look good and have a certain fascination for us as viewers in times and spaces removed from our counterparts in the image (and here, the audience in the painting before them). However, do we need to look over and over again, at different audiences in different museums? Or do we get the point from a single viewing of a single series?

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