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You also slow down the narrative. I recently interviewed Richard Artschwager and had a chance to look at his early drawings again, particularly Lefrak City from 1962 and the Apartment House from 1964. They depict council or block flats. I was struck by how much they reminded me of the apartment buildings you've photographed, particularly Chemin des Coudriers from 1989 and Veddeler Bruckenstrasse, Hamburg   from 1986. There's a reference here to your work and even to Andreas Gursky through these buildings.

Thomas Struth, Veddeler Brückenstrasse, Hamburg 1986
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery

Interesting. I often visited the Museum Ludwig in Cologne when I was 14, 15, and 20, and later, as well, and so I saw Pop Art very early on; maybe there's a certain importance for me because of the everyday that appears in Pop Art. It's a reflective use of the media. There's actually one piece of Artschwager's in the Ludwig collection I've always liked and have known since I was 15 or 16, a vertical drawing of an apartment block tower in one of these Formica frames.

Thomas Struth, Sommerstrasse Düsseldorf, 1979
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery

The Apartment House from 1964.

With this strange surface I always admired.

On the Celotex.

Yeah, that's right. For a long time I was very interested in city planning and development. I noticed these apartments - they're all over the world, more or less, but they don't appear as subject matter anywhere in art, and if they do appear anywhere, it's in leftist newspapers or as part of a complaint about social circumstances. In these cases, they're photographed very badly, as if to stress the ugliness. I thought it would be more interesting to photograph them very handsomely and precisely as a means of mental defense, to give these objects and the people who live in them more of a voice, but not in such an easy way.

Thomas Struth, West 21st Street, New York (Chelsea) 1978, Deutsche Bank Collection
©Thomas Struth, Düsseldorf

That's fascinating, because Artschwager found that original image as a 2 or 3 inch ad in El Diario, the daily Spanish newspaper, and then he blew it up to 8 feet or so. He was also very interested in what was happening inside those apartments.

With Gursky, I think he just took one thing of Montparnasse in Paris. That has nothing to do with social analysis.

How did Daniel Buren's use of context and location affect you?

When I was at the Academy in Dusseldorf, Daniel Buren was a guest professor for one year. I always went to his courses. We were a small group of people, he was fairly important for many of us because he had a radical attitude in discussing structural functioning vs. the environment in which it appears, which is what his own work is about. When I meet him somewhere around the globe, we always manage to smile at each other because quite a number of students who were in that small group have become quite well-known, like Thomas Schutte or Reinhard Mucha or myself. He's quite proud, he likes the memory of that year. He came early in the morning at eight and would spend the whole day and evening with us.

Thomas Struth, Piazza San Ignazio III in Rom, 1990, Deutsche Bank Collection
©Thomas Srtuth, Düsseldorf

Thomas Struth, Gerhard Richter, 1993
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery
How has Gerhard Richter influenced your photographs?

There was an influence while I was studying with him; I was still a painter. Then I started to photograph. The paintings became more realistic. Over the course of one and a half years, I realized I was interested in making pictures, but not interested in making paintings. The painting interest became weaker and ultimately faded. 

Thomas Struth, Louvre 2 Paris, 1989
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery
Did it fade, or has it resurfaced through the museum photographs?

It's stayed with me, although not so directly, of course. The museum photographs allowed me to do that. When I look at painting, I can see how it's made. I'm not an outsider, I'm an insider. I have a love for painting. I'm always interested in the painting process. When you do a painting, you can adjust the weights of the composition according to what you want, but also during the time of realist painting people were taking their incentives from reality. Someone like Tiziano would make a portrait of even the Veronese painting at the L'Accademia as a role model for some kind of reality, even though it's religious subject matter.

There's a painting of Filippino Lippi's, The Death of Lucretia, that I always go to see at the Palazzo Pitti, and, of course, it was the practice during the Renaissance to depict simultaneous time frames that marked different event sequences. How do you settle on the event you end up with in the portraits?

Thomas Struth, Selbstporträt, Alte Pinakothek, 2000
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery

With the portraits, there's often the question of how to put what you want in your frame, what you need and what's extra and what should not be in the picture.

You're an incredibly rigorous editor.

That's true.

You're editing as you're working.

That's right. I rarely crop anything.

Thomas Struth, National Gallery 2 (Vermeer), London
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery

People talk about how you direct or choreograph, especially in the museum series, but I think the act of editing as you're working is at the heart of your photographs.

That's right, thank you.

Your relationship to Richter and to the Bechers not only straddles painting vs. photography. Through the Bechers, a Minimalist or Conceptual point of view is expressed, but there is also a Pop Art influence happening in your work that we've talked about and that's also perhaps filtered through Richter's "photo-paintings" ( example) and his connection to American Pop Art. In most contemporary work, sides are chosen; you've managed to utilize that uneasy connection to both.

Thomas Struth, Pantheon, Rom 1990
Courtesy Thomas Struth and Marian Goodman Gallery

One thing that impressed me with the Bechers is that there's a longing to acknowledge history in their work, because they recover something that is not destroyed yet.

Is that the archiving process?

Yeah, but I'm speaking about the general attitude that is legible as a sub-tone.

It's the relationship to history ...

It's the relationship to history they have vs. Richter. When you look at Richter, you always have the feeling - I'm just thinking this for the first time as we speak - I always feel that attitude is rather foggy in his work.

It's tentative.

It's tentative because of Uncle Rudi and these things, but it's unclear, even in the Baader-Meinhof ...

It's never directly confrontational.

Gerhard Richter, Onkel Rudi, 2000
Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery
Gerhard Richter, Gegenüberstellung 3, 1988
Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

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