Geldern 1954 – lives in Berlin
„Paradise 24, Sao Francisco de Xavier“ Brazil. 2001
C-print, Diasec. 210 × 271 cm (223 × 284 cm). (82 ⅝ × 106 ¾ in. (87 ¾ × 111 ¾ in.)) Label with printed work information, cat. no. and edition number, signed in black felt tip pen on the reverse of the frame. One of 10 numbered copies.  Artist's frame
EUR 60.000 – 80.000
USD 68,200 – 90,900
95,000 EUR (incl. premium)
Literature and IllustrationThomas Struth: New Pictures from Paradise. Munich 2002, unpaginated /Thomas Struth. Munich 2017, p. 210–211 / Thomas Struth: New Pictures from Paradise. Munich 2017, p. 44–45
Will we get to Paradise? Will all our questions be answered, and will all be revealed to us? In his “Paradise” series, photographer Thomas Struth focuses his lens on a number of pristine forest panoramas throughout the world that exude a sense of promise. His images, while serving as windows onto the living natural world, do more than merely show us lovely, unspoiled places where we might lose ourselves or – as we often expect art to enable us to do – find ourselves again.
Paradise 24, Sao Francisco de Xavier, a large-scale work from this series, gently challenges us to assert our role as viewers. We are expected to keep our distance from this primordial jungle, which Struth has artfully frozen into a maze of filigree patterns, even as it seems to invite us to step inside and explore. Much as in his Museum series, which portrays visitors admiring various masterworks, the artist’s intent behind this oversized print is to play with our hope of seeing something more in the picture than what its surface shows. By rendering even the delicate lichens in the foreground every bit as clearly as the trees and palm fronds in the background, Struth momentarily jars our sense of visual space. After all, the human eye is unable to perceive both foreground and background in equal focus at the same time. By marrying technical precision to this novel mode of seeing, Struth’s photographs leave us hanging in a slightly hypnotic state: Is a broader perspective unfolding before us, or are we lost in a welter of random details best described as “radically contingent” (to borrow a trope favored by the famous photography critic Siegfried Kracauer)?
In Paradise 24, Struth juxtaposes two modes of seeing. One type of visual contemplation allows us to survey the world as a comprehensible whole, while another places us inside as active participants. After Adam had stolen the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, he wanted more than simply to admire the world as God’s creation. He yearned to see himself and Eve not as bit players against a lush backdrop, but rather as immersed participants who are able to participate, to modify their surroundings, and to themselves create the world in their own right. Expelled from Eden, man lost the capacity to see with innocent eyes. He gained the ability to contribute to shaping his environment. Having wrested the apple out of what seemed to be a static world, man saw that world fall apart into an infinity of individual pieces. The hope implicit in art, as it were, is that it just might allow us to re-assemble these details back into a holistic whole.
Thus, Struth plays with this hope that we can retrace our steps from a world of contingent elements – i.e. from the state of knowing contemplation that forms the basis for our modern, scientific, and analytic modes of perception – so as to find our way back to a more innocent mode of seeing. His aim is to liberate our gaze from the expectation that we are able to arrange anything we see in pre-existing patterns. Gazing at these huge images, we are bound to lose ourselves at times. For Struth, these are the moments that free us from the compulsion of having to turn everything we see directly into knowledge. Paradise, just like the technical medium of photography, was never really intended for mankind, the artist seems to say. It remains beyond our reach, like a cold theater set against which we play a walk-on role – a state of alienation which a camera image can aptly capture.
Paradise 24 delves deep into the fundamental theme of Struth’s work: Can a more patient mode of seeing allow us to change our relationship to the world from a passive into a creative one? And if so, is this new creative role constructive or not? This is the question posed by Struth in his images – not only of urban landscapes, empty streetscapes, and factories, but also of the natural world, which we first entered after Adam’s fall and which we have altered so profoundly during the intervening Anthroprocene Era that it threatens to turn against us in catastrophic fashion.
Seeing with innocent eyes is something we forgot how to do long ago. We can scarcely look at a primordial forest nowadays without thinking, in the back of our minds, that it will probably be cleared by logging sooner or later. Yet the first step in this chain of thought, one that must not necessarily always culminate in destruction, is the act of seeing itself. Thus, Struth’s Paradise positions the viewer at the edge of an abyss created not by wickedness or insanity, but rather by our insatiable desire for knowledge and understanding.
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