Monday, 5 September 2011

On Thomas Struth's 'San Zaccaria'

Maybe Thomas Struth’s 1995 photograph of the interior of the church of San Zaccaria in Venice is too obvious a way to epitomise the relationship between contemporary art and the art of the past. Not only that: it’s also nearly 20 years old, it’s over-familiar, and it’s representative of a moment in photography that now looks old hat, very pre-2008. The thing itself seems like a relic of a time when photography set out to be object first and image second: a huge glossy C-print, designed for easy installation over a plutocrat’s mantle. There’s something obscene about it, even: a photographic object, printed in an edition made to sate commercial tastes, recording a unique painted object, whose placement – as much as whose content and author – generates a heightened aura of sacramental exclusivity. There’s pathos to that, too, on first look. It might be used to head an article on the indifference of the modern public to great artistic masterpieces (look at that dude on the bottom left! He’s not even looking!), or an op-ed on the rise of atheism. So the reaction to the work is sometimes a bit sneering. That, or – as I witnessed while looking at this work in Struth’s current show at the Whitechapel gallery – awe. Strewth!

Read the whole article at Art21 here.

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