Private Collection, Norway
Exhibition Catalogue, Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich; Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung NRW; Porto, Museu Serralves, Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978 - 2010, 2010-12, pp. 134 and 221, illustration of another example in colour
The concept of the connection between viewers and artworks is of crucial significance throughout the series of Museum Photographs. The artist explains: "At the Prado, I was partly interested in the casual presence and behaviour of young students standing just a few feet away from one of the most astonishing paintings in history, yet being largely consumed by themselves. On the other hand, the heightened awareness of each and everybody's role and position is one of the strikingly modern aspects of Las Meninas. By cropping the painting, I attempted to bring the two plains of history even closer together than in my earlier Museum Photographs” (the artist, September 2013). Struth places us in the curious position of gazing at the onlookers whilst they, in turn, examine the paintings in front of them. We are witnesses to the act of looking, able to observe the differing reactions of the crowd as they interact with their rarefied surroundings, their attitudes eternally captured through Struth’s marked framing. Yet Struth introduces yet another layer of complexity into the work: the central subject of Las Meninas seems to gaze down upon the curious onlookers, as we ourselves continue to play the role of viewer, forming a magnificently convoluted tri-partite schema of seeing and being seen.
Within Museo del Prado 4 and Struth’s accompanying images of this particular museum, paintings and viewers are invested with equal importance, an intriguing development from the earlier works within the series in which the artworks frequently took compositional precedence. In order to achieve this complex disposition of light and positioning, Struth employed a tripod mounted on wheels to allow flexible movement amongst the crowds: “I worked [in the Prado] for seven days, eight hours a day, and I noticed how school groups stood very close to the picture, almost touching it with their elbows… I had my tripod mounted on wheels, so I could move it more spontaneously” (the artist cited in: Ibid.) The result is a work of extraordinary visual power: a modern masterpiece that explores the themes of perception, art and the relationship between an artwork and its audience in a profound and subtle manner.
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