Nothing but the Struth

A new exhibition showcases the German photographer’s eye for art

Thomas Struth is one of the world’s most provocative art photographers, but his huge images of people in museums and galleries—the one above is 6 by 7 feet—are not some ironic art theory exercise. "I wanted to remind my audience that when artworks were made, they were not yet icons or museum pieces," says Struth, who is 48 and lives in his native Germany.

A three-month exhibition of about 90 Struth photographs, organized by the Dallas Museum of Art, opens June 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The works, created over 25 years, include eerily unpeopled street scenes and landscapes, family portraits and even pictures of flowers. But Struth, who started out as a painter and studied under the conceptual artist Gerhard Richter, is best known for his two dozen or so outsize museum photographs in which real people and painted figures seem to interact. In his 1990 photograph of Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day, above, taken at the Art Institute of Chicago, the strolling Parisians have more vitality than the women regarding them. Struth invests the 19th-century painting with new life, poses a question or two about how times (and art) have changed, and gives our self-awareness a nudge in the ribs: we catch ourselves people-watching.

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