The Photographic Image in Recent German Art: Richter, Gursky, and Struth
Although contemporary German photography has indirectly been affected by post-WWII circumstances in Germany—particularly in the work of Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, a painter—Gerhard Richter has played a more direct and significant role in influencing the artistic practices of the younger artists, as well as their subjects. He introduced the concept of the photograph as painting, in turn opening the doors to photography as an art form/object. Because Richter is nearly a quarter of a century their elder, Struth and Gursky were in a position to understand most of Richter’s artwork as a reaction to Nazism, and then to Communism in East Germany. Richter questioned his place as a young German in a disgraced country surrounded by an older generation that had been exhausted and humiliated by their political situation. In his paintings, he often creates a juxtaposition of prewar and postwar cultural and political references (i.e., Aunt Marianne, 1965 and Uncle Rudi, 1965). These societal details and illustrations, along with his introduction of paintings like photographs, beginning in the 1960s, established Richter as a leader, later to be recognized as a postmodern master. He penetrated the boundaries of where painting was headed in the sixties, choosing to copy everyday images onto his canvas. To date, he obviously has matured stylistically and has developed his own sense of perception and expressively painted works.
Raised in postwar Germany, Struth and Gursky followed their artistic ambitions and looked up to leading contemporary German artists for inspiration, in particular Richter. Even in a superficial analysis from the seventies until today, both photographers show a similarly thematic production of their work, identical to Richter’s thematic regime: landscapes, portraits, and aerial cityscapes. Whether Struth aims to capture a natural moment in time, or Gursky exploits current technology by manipulating his digital prints, they have shown how photography is as diverse a medium as any other traditional art form. Richter’s belief in the unconventional use of a photograph reproduced in painting is similar to the younger artists faith in photography as a method of artistic expression. Understanding the innovative ideas of their elder, as well as the political circumstances of their generation, they took the past and reworked it into their own, liberating a method in art-making, as Richter did twenty-five years before them. No other German painter has had a greater influence on the current generation of popular German photographers than Richter. Struth and Gursky have adopted his perception and, at times, ironic subjects in their spectacularly large-scale, color photography.
Skarlet Smatana attended Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, for her BA with Honors in Art History. She has resided in Venice, Italy, and New York, NY, participating in internships at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Christie’s and working at PaceWildenstein. Subsequent to coming to SAIC, she worked at Richard Gray Gallery.
Thesis Advisor: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory and Criticism
Thesis Reader: Kathryn Hixson, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory and Criticism
Thomas L. Sloan, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory and Criticism