Critics’ Picks

Large Sunflower, no. 4, Winterthur, 1991.

Large Sunflower, no. 4, Winterthur, 1991.

Los Angeles

Thomas Struth

MOCA Geffen Contemporary
152 North Central Avenue
September 15, 2002–January 5, 2003

At this moment of international tension, Thomas Struth’s images of international zones have an added poignancy, especially when seen in the constantly remade environs of downtown Los Angeles. This retrospective, including nearly a hundred pictures of cities and forests all over the globe, offers a kind of around-the-world-in-a-day experience, as one industrialized, high-rise-ridden landscape replaces another. Struth’s well-known and truly alluring museum pictures, which introduce the show, explore the multilayered gazes and accidental choreography of the public gathering. You take away a sense of the shared or blended identity of the urban environment, be it a city street or an institutional interior. The show, organized by the Dallas Museum of Art, alternates, sometimes awkwardly, between big color prints (from four by six feet) and earlier black-and-whites of smaller, more classic photo proportions from the late 1970s and '80s, which reveal the artist’s early association with the Bechers. These images, poised between art and architectural document, capture points of redevelopment and transition but are pervaded with a sense of stasis: Modernist skyscrapers mix impassively with older structures in a sort of inescapable constancy. The oversize C-prints of the 1990s are at that epic painting scale but also, sealed under the gloss of media, evoke the movie screen. The result of plentiful air travel to both urban centers and lush forests (in the case of his “Paradise” series, initiated in 1998), they’re also insistently shiny, as if printed on glass. You can almost see yourself in them—a move by which Struth implicates each viewing body physically in his exploration of contemporary urbanity. As with his 1999 image of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, captured on display in a curiously theatrical niche at the National Museum of Art, Tokyo, Struth’s pictures highlight a sometimes stunning dramatic blur between the beauty and the facelessness of globalism.