Andreas Gursky was a first for not only the National Gallery of Victoria, but also Australia, as this was the only Australian venue to host the first major exhibition of Gursky’s work in this part of the world.
The exhibition from the Haus der Kunst in Munich included twenty-one of Gursky’s major works, hand-selected by the artist himself.
Andreas Gursky is internationally acclaimed for his large-scale photographs, which generally measure four to five metres, and for his outstanding contribution to contemporary German photography. Gursky is considered to be continuing the ‘new objectivity’ approach, first expressed by artists such as August Sander, Renger Patzsch and Bernd and Hilla Becher.
The son of a commercial photographer, Andreas Gursky was born in Liepzig in 1955 and grew up in Düsseldorf. He attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Germany’s State Art Academy in the 1980s. It was here that he studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher, known as the ‘godparents’ of modern objective photography, and was heavily influenced by their methodical black and white photographic style. Best known for their collection of photographs of industrial structures and machinery, they used a large format camera to capture their subjects from different angles while maintaining a strongly objective point of view.
In the mid 1980s Gursky began to develop his own style away from the Becher model, most notably by choosing to photograph in colour. However, his work to this day continues to have strong sense of the artist’s objective, observatory and distanced approach to photography.
For example, one of his most recent works, Pyongyang I (2007), gives an objective point of view of political and social structures at work. The event photographed is the annual Arirang Festival in Pyongyang, North Korea, which is held annually in honour of the late Communist leader Kim Il Sung. The precise nature of the choreography is captured beautifully, allowing the viewer to observe and admire the absolute dedication of the individual 100,000 participants to achieve the final spectacular result.
Gursky has travelled the world capturing what he believes to be symbols of contemporary culture. The works produced in this period of travel in the 1980s are considered to be some of the most original achievements in contemporary photography.
All of the photographs in Andreas Gursky are awe-inspiring on first viewing. The sheer size of the works are almost overwhelming, but importantly they also draw one’s eye closer to inspect the intricate detail. A good example is Engadin II (2006) where one becomes aware of what first seems to be ants, but which are are actually hundreds of skiers at play in the popular Swiss alpine valley.
The scale and complexity of the subjects Gursky photographs is impossible to capture from a single vantage point, such as in the diptych, Paris, Montparnesse (1993). In order to achieve the desired effect, the artist employed digital techniques to assemble the two photographs and to alter and add details.
Similar techniques are also employed in Gursky’s photographs of the Formula 1 pit stops. Three examples of these have been selected for the exhibition, and while these images have obviously been assembled, by doing so the artist is able to capture the intensity of the competitive atmosphere in these heightened moments of activity. These works are actually composed of images from many sources, including some taken from the artist’s own studio, and digitally assembled to spectacular effect. Thomas Weski, Deputy Director of the Haus der Kunst, has described such works as F1 Boxenstopp I as ‘fictions based on facts’.
Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator of Photography at the NGV goes further: ‘[Gursky] takes the principles of objectivity and, through digital imaging and the scale and sophistication of his work, pushes photography to extreme lengths’.
The works of Andreas Gursky capture the scale and detail globalisation in spectacular fashion in which seeing is not always believing.Andreas Gursky
St Kilda Road, Victoria
21 Nov 2008 – 22 Feb 2009