Exhibition Review: Thomas Struth - New Works
By Leah Pfenning
On Tuesday night the Marian Goodman Gallery opened the New Works exhibition by German photographer, Thomas Struth. The exhibition features photography from two different bodies of work. The first, is an unveiling of a brand new series, a memento mori of sorts, portraits of deceased animals taken at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. The second, is a continuing series that shows off the capacity of what the human mind can create through an awe-inspring look into nuclear fusion laboratories, NASA facilities, Shipyards, and places of the like.
Struth’s portraiture of animals is a reminder of our terrestrial mortality. The artist had been reflecting on the idea of death when the opportunity to photograph at the zoological institute came about, and Struth found it to be an apt project through which to contemplate our transitory nature. “I’m interested in the idea of surrender: once you die, all the circus that you proactively design, the theater, comes to a full stop.” The idea of photographing something that is dead as a mnemonic of the inevitably of our own expiration sounds morose in theory, but there is something subtle in the work, the details of the tufts of fur, that celebrate the fragility of life, reminding us of its sacredness.
The work in the animal series was executed in a very conscious and humane manner. All the animals shot in this series died of natural causes. The Leibniz Institute performs autopsies on free-ranging and captive animals to study the evolutionary advances (and limits), and the interplay between these animals, civilization, and the environment in Germany and across the globe. All research is conducted in an effort to build better-informed and more effective conservation plans.
True to form, Struth did extensive research on the subject raking the internet for x-rays, old paintings, and nature photography to determine what kind of portrayal of these creatures he wanted to deliver, what was important. Struth states that “these pictures should be like punches, the memento of death as a wake-up call.” Despite the subject matter, the photos are not morbid; there is a sensitivity to the work, an encouragement to savor life. The artist worked on a short timeline, usually a few hours were allotted to him before an autopsy would begin. Even with the limitation of time and only the use of available light at the Leibniz Institute, Struth managed to capture the animals in such a way as if they are still resting between life and death.
The second body of work featured in the exhibition is a continued exploration of large-scale manmade structures as they relate to technology and culture. The series consists of large chromogenic prints of everything from semi submergible rigs, to space shuttle 1 at the Kennedy Space Center, to a chemistry fume cabinet at the University of Edinburgh. Struth’s fascination with the magnitude and inscrutable complexity of these structures is contagious. Existing amongst such technology makes one feel alien to their own world, but Struth features these belugas of creation in such an awesome way, one can’t help but step back and say, wow!
Thomas Struth: New Works is running now through December 22nd on the fourth floor of the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, New York.
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery
All images © Thomas Struth