For a fraction of a second following the Big Bang, quarks and gluons existed freely in a primordial, plasmic state. Then, like a photograph, came the moment when everything locked into place. A Large Ion Collider Experiment, or ALICE, one of the eight experiments located at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider northwest of Geneva, was built to study this genesis. It’s a very, very big machine designed to smash very, very small hadrons into subatomic quarks and gluons. It’s also an ideal subject for Thomas Struth’s practice because this is, in a way, also what his photographs yield: They are gigantic apparatuses that work in exquisite detail. They obliterate the distance between macro and micro. They expose the mechanics of matter, break it down into its constituent parts.
Five of the works in Struth’s new exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery depict machines at CERN. The nearly 9-foot-tall photograph ALICE, CERN, Saint Genis-Pouilly, 2019 (2019) is actually a composite of two images—a single large-format frame fails to record this hyperreality. Part of Struth’s “Nature and Politics” series, four other large-format images depict forests coated in snow. Three are entanglements of tree limbs stripped of leaves that tesselate into dense configurations, while the fourth, Ellsworth Schist, Rockport, Maine 2021 (2021), goes fully nonrepresentational—this wavering picture recalls Ansel Adams’s forays into forest-floor abstractions.
Also in this exhibition, Struth returns to his long-running “Family Portraits” series with four new images of households in Berlin and Hamburg. The series has always included portraits of artists—such as Gerhard Richter’s family—but here Struth turns, presumably, to his own extended kin in The Struth Santos Family, Hamburg, 2021 (2021). Yet the smallest work in the show, The Charles Family, Berlin 2021 (2021), is perhaps most touching: intimately framed, the family of three nestles their hands against each other’s bodies, radiating a sense of warmth and enclosure. —Will Fenstermaker
Thomas Struth, ALICE, CERN, Saint Genis-Pouilly, 2019. Inkjet print, 106 3/8 x 90 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York. © Thomas Struth