Thomas Struth; MARIAN GOODMAN GALLERY
Richard, Frances, Artforum International
Thomas Struth's exhibition of new photographs opened with a C-print of a rocky coastline under a cloudy sky. A streak of bottle green marks the horizon in Donghae City, South Korea, 2007; in the foreground, outcrops of ancient-looking stone align to form orthogonals that plunge through foam to a romantic distance. It takes a while to notice the cast-concrete barrier units stockpiled at the picture's far left edge. Fake reef? Military emplacement? Dump? We never discover, but in the fifteen images that follow, a related man-made plethora expands to fill every frame. Since 2007, Struth has been photographing inside pharmaceutical and nuclear laboratories; in the Max Planck Institute and Kennedy Space Center; at a Daewoo shipyard; among the towers of Hong Kong. Resolved with his usual preternatural depth of field, the images survey the skins and guts of technoglobalism. Donghae City is the only scene with breathable air inside it. Elsewhere, zooming perspectives promise depth, only to flatten into sealed abyss; our view is barricaded by snarls of tubes and wires, glass-and-steel grids, and the curved flanks of rockets and reactors too big to fit even these history-painting-size prints. People appear occasionally, yet seem mere excrescences of the machinery. What's weird, then, is that one leaves without feeling queasy, enraged, or terrified.
Struth, through his nonjudgmental precision, does not exactly reinstate a humanist subject who can conquer sinister sublimity. But he doesn't mock or erase that subject either. Instead, standing in uncertain meat-space outside the images (which may include digitally enhanced color, but are not composited or stretched), we muse on details. What is Bubble Wrap doing covering protuberances in the Stellarator Wendelstein 7-X Detail, Max Planck IPP, Greifswald, Germany, 2009? The ostensibly more important question--what is a Stellarator Wendelstein 7-X?--doesn't arise, because this contraption looks so similar to the Distillation Column, Ineos Phenol, Gladbeck, Germany, 2009, whose insulation is tufting from its sheath; or to the components in Seamless Tube Production, Tenaris Siderca, Campanal Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009, which look awfully grimy for ultratech. …