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Thomas Struth is Not a Composer

Sometimes it is easy, for me anyway, to dedicate the rare and all-too-precious resources of my free time—the time I am not working, the time wherein I go to concerts, movies, take walks, etc.—to events that are not musical.  Every few weeks or so I see a film (though sadly of late I’ve only seen bad ones, causing me to wince at the unknown) and too-rarely I’ll go to a museum—this is confession time, because living in New York, it’s a shameful lack and I annually miss hundreds of beautiful things due to this concertgoing myopia. 

So the other night I was lucky to break my streak and take in Thomas Struth’s opening at the Marion Goodman Gallery.  Struth is just an amazing eye.  His photographs (which used to focus primarily on crowd scenes gathered around paintings in museums, which also depicted crowd scenes) are just vivid and full of life.  This new series is about the complexity of functional machinery, much of it found at Cape Canaveral.  He was allowed to photograph the space shuttle, but from some spectacularly quixotic angles: who knew what the underside looked like?  What about the control panel or the more functional buildings on the campus?  And the Cape aside, Struth ventures into the bellies of the beasts, rendering the guts of the Phoenix Pharmaceutical Packaging Plant in Leipzig or the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (resulting in my favorite photograph titled “Grazing-Incidence-Spectometer Max Planck IPP, Gerching”) with a kind of visceral glee and cheekiness.  As great art often does, it made me consider aspects of our lives: we are invested—no, I think dependent is the better word—in technology and yet it’s often prettified so we can use it without thinking about the (quite literal sometimes) nuts and bolts.  I’m  sitting in a room typing on a sumptuously sleek and gorgeous 24-Inch iMac, iPhone and Kindle neatly charging nearby. This is a passel of wires, chips, and other things I literally do not have a mental picture of because my computer forbids internal exploration—I’d have to break it, render it useless, to see how it works. And I won’t. 

Soon I’ll revise this post, hit send, and by some miracle documents will move through servers, wires, satellites and other prettified computers and land in front of you.  And you never have to see the process sweat, never consider the wires or mechanisms because they are so masked as to seem non-existent.  Struth brings this to light in the most evocative, rich, and ultimately whimsical way because I couldn’t help thinking—and this is meant as the highest compliment—that some of these pieces, so colorful, so full of things to engage the eye, so completely devoid, for the most part, of the human form, would not be out of place on the wall of a child’s bedroom.

Struth is likely not advocating for an uglifying of our technology, but he does force the eye to the inner workings in a particular fashion.  And if you think about it, we spend our entire lives looking after (or sadly not looking after) an inordinately complex machine that is our own body, and we never see—if we are lucky—what makes it function.  My father is a surgeon, and I’ve always thought that while his son, a composer, traffics professionally in the “sublime” or the “unknown,” he is truly the explorer of the uncharted because he sees inside people literally—the best I can do, and I mean the absolute for-the-ages best, is capture some fleeting aspect of humanity in a somewhat more sustained way, but he gets to cut in and see how the machine works. 

Thus endeth my foray into Visual Art Critcism.  I’ll be back soon to report on a week wherein I get to hear live concerts of two of my favorite pieces of music—Lulu and De Staat—which could not be more different. It remains an excellent job I have!

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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