There is a melancholy in many of Struth's successful photographs. Strangely, it is a quality the artist himself recognizes only in his most recent work, a series of forest and jungle scenes. Titled "Paradise," the recent works depart from Struth's oeuvre in their flat, frontal quality, in their lack of vanishing points and visible horizons and in their dense, even claustrophobic composition. Like a Pollock drip painting, they defy analysis or deconstruction, flat and aloof and inscrutable. In a recent article, Struth himself explains that the jungle pictures spring from "pictorial and emotional" concerns and that they primarily "emphasize the self...It's about the experience of time as well as a certain humility in dealing with things. It's a metaphor for life and death."
As usual, the curators of this show are too awed by the conventional wisdom, by the dictates of marketing and curatorial fashion, to provide any compelling assessment of Struth's work, much less of his likely place in art history. But the essays accompanying the show's catalog are lucid, and surprisingly jargon-free, and the catalog, like the show, is a worthy effort, not to mention a pleasant surprise.
"Art Institute of Chicago II, Chicago" (1990), one of Thomas Struth's "museum photographs" now on view at the DMA