- Thomas Struth
- Notre-Dame, Paris
- signed on a label affixed to the reverse
- cibachrome print
- image: 170.7 by 214.5cm.; 67 1/4 by 84 1/2 in.
- overall: 181 by 224.5cm.; 71 1/4 by 88 3/8 in.
- Executed in 2000, this work is from an edition of 10.
Dissatisfied with the medium of painting, Thomas Struth took the advice of Gerhard Richter, his instructor at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, and pursued photography under the eminent duo of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Under their tutelage, which emphasized structure and composition, Struth explored the relationship between man and environment to a degree uncharted by previous artists. Early black-and-white photographs of empty city streets documented urban landscapes and the bonds between architecture, location and function. Later, unsentimental photographs of families exposed the construction of family hierarchies.
Through these means, Struth has emerged as one of the pre-eminent artists of our time, distinguishing himself as a leading figure of the “Becher” school which included, Andreas Gursky, Axel Hütte, Candida Höfer and Thomas Ruff.
The present work, from Struth’s series of interior and exterior religious architecture, in itself an extension of his renowned 'Museum Photographs', displays a detail of the magnificent western façade of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Witnessing the birth of the Third Crusade, the coronation of Henry VI, and the defence of Jeanne d'Arc, the cathedral has been a site of historical and religious significance for over eight centuries. Yet, modern visitors are often not seeking spiritual fulfilment. Rather, the vast majority make the pilgrimage to the Île de la Cité for the same reason they seek the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat: to feel a shared cultural achievement.
By cropping the north and south towers of the cathedral and including the queue of tourists awaiting entrance, Struth brilliantly illuminates this cultural phenomenon. Here, the dichotomy between original artistic intent and contemporary cultural dislocation is laid bare. Carved figures of saints, intended to awe and inspire are captured and emasculated by disposable cameras. Throngs of tourists, in a digestive dance enter through the Portal to Saint Anne and exit through the Portal of the Last Judgement.
Yet, in Notre-Dame, Paris, like his earlier cityscapes and family portraits, Struth’s camera does not impose its own prejudices on its subjects. Rather, the viewer is detached, flâneur-like; a silent witness to the inevitable tide of cultural diffusion. However, as Struth captures this privileged view, he enables us to examine the architecture of our own lives and explore the effects of consumption on the items we consume. Thus, as in all great works of art, Notre-Dame, Paris, leaves us questioning the cultural significance of a work of art, the inevitable displacement of intent, and how both reflect on ourselves.