The monumental vision of world's most expensive photographer

Updated 25th January 2018
Andreas Gursky
99 Cent II, 1999/2009
C-Print, diasec
207 x 325 x 6.2cm
© Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017
Courtesy: Sprüth Magers
Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
The monumental vision of world's most expensive photographer
Written by Allyssia Alleyne, CNNLondon
After two years of extensive renovations to its brutalist home, London's Hayward Gallery has reopened with a major retrospective dedicated to German photographer Andreas Gursky.
"Having a great building only gets you so far. We need to have great art to go into it," curator and gallery director Ralph Rugoff said at a press preview. "And for that, I'm thrilled that we're opening with this exhibition looking at four decades of Andreas Gursky's career.
"Amazon" (2016) by Andreas Gursky.
"Amazon" (2016) by Andreas Gursky. Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
"He is someone who has not just reinvented the language of photography, but has reinvented the way we can think about the possibilities of picture-making in many a format."
The exhibition features 68 of Gursky's works, dating back to 1984, including eight new works that are being displayed for the first time. Visitors will also have the opportunity to view an edition of the monumental "Rhein II" (2011), which has held the record for the most expensive photograph sold at auction since it fetched $4.3 million at a 2011 Christie's sale.

Capturing the 'flawed present'

"Les Mées" (2016) by Andreas Gursky.
"Les Mées" (2016) by Andreas Gursky. Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
The sheer variety of images on show is astonishing. Holiday-style snaps from Gursky's early "Sunday Pictures" series give way to stunning landscapes; an overwhelming Amazon warehouse is placed near a candy-colored 99-cent store; the interior of a '90s-era Prada shop is steps away from a print of Iron Man and Pepper Potts embracing under towering palms.
There's an appropriated image of the Antarctic as seen from space, and a photo of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino lab 3,300 feet beneath Mount Ikeno in Japan.
"Ocean II" (2010) by Andreas Gursky.
"Ocean II" (2010) by Andreas Gursky. Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
"So many artists come up with two or three ways of inventing a new picture, and then they repeat that in series through their whole career. And I think it's very important to note that Andreas really has approached each picture as a new thing to grapple with," Rugoff said.
"Yes, there are compositions that he revisits, but ... the range of approach and thinking behind pictures, as you see across this whole show, that is really something very (much) of interest."
Gursky is best known for his generous use of digital manipulation to create images that expertly blur the line between reality and fiction -- turning factories, techno raves and trading floors into sites of abstract beauty.
"99 Cent II" (1999/2009) by Andreas Gursky.
"99 Cent II" (1999/2009) by Andreas Gursky. Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
His edits can be extensive. He combines multiple images into a single work; removes and adds pertinent details; and pushes colors to their brightest limits. However, these changes often only reveal themselves upon close inspection. Look closely at "Rhein II" (2011) and indeed, the horizon does seem too perfectly flat, too empty -- likely because the buildings on the far side of the river were erased.
"Rhein II" (1999/2015) by Andreas Gursky
"Rhein II" (1999/2015) by Andreas Gursky Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
And yet, despite the manipulations, Gursky's images are grounded in a long-held desire to honestly capture our flawed present -- a mission that has taken him to a North Korean gymnastics festival, a Vietnamese Ikea factory and a French housing block.
"Most of these images are also metaphors about some aspect of contemporary life today -- cultural attitudes and fantasy; some change to the way we use technology, even to make pictures; working conditions; and global interconnection of the world," Rugoff said.
"Andreas is an artist who's able to show you that complexity, and also the beauty of this world, while never forgetting that it's a world full of problems at the same time. That's something very few artists right now can achieve."
"Bahrain I" (2005) by Andreas Gursky.
"Bahrain I" (2005) by Andreas Gursky. Credit: Courtesy Andreas Gursky/DACS/Sprüth Magers
"Andreas Gursky" is on at the Hayward Gallery in London from Jan. 25 to April 22, 2018.
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