PRINT Summer 2002

Thomas Struth

I SAW THE GERHARD RICHTER EXHIBITION before it had been fully installed, but one of the things that struck me when I walked through it had to do with the fact that some people say the artist produces only beautiful, perfect images. I think, on the contrary, that he really wrestles with himself, the outside world, and the problematics of perception. He is indeed incredibly refined, a perfectionist, but he is also a vulnerable person. When I recently photographed him with his family, I realized it was not self-evident that he would involve them in his paintings. But he did just that, which represents a risk and thus should not be understood only as an art-historical gesture or reference. When I see Richter’s paintings of his wife and young child, I do not think simply of the classical Madonna and child but about an immediate emotional reality, whatever that is for him—and about family snapshots.

I like the fact that in the exhibition’s first rooms, which presented a selection of the early work, the paintings seen today looked humorous and earnest at the same time. The surprising use of the staircase to punctuate the introductory spaces covering the first decade of Richter’s career and the manner of lining up one mini-exhibition of the artist’s work after another in the third-floor galleries spoke to the curator’s masterful presentation—and to what was particular to Storr’s curatorial idea. But it also made me aware of how this humor has faded. Over time Richter has become exceedingly earnest and completely serious. Now that we are overwhelmed by photography and it has become ubiquitous in contemporary art, one might perhaps look to these paintings qua paintings for a kind of truth. I still find it striking that all of Richter’s work is related to photography. Imagine his series of gray paintings as sheets of accidentally exposed photographic paper, or think of the parallels between his abstractions and Man Ray’s experiments. Yet the incessant layering by which Richter develops these abstract images seems to mark a journey, a complex psychological struggle to understand the world. What he displays in these paintings is finally the search itself.

Excerpted from an interview with Daniel Birnbaum.

Thomas Struth is a Düsseldorf-based photographer. A retrospective of his wok opened in May at the Dallas Museum of Art.