Andreas Gursky: Not Abstract II at Gagosian
Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones
The work of photographer Andreas Gursky stays true to form in his current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, majestic images that make a statement due to their size, clarity and omniscient vision. Viewers will most likely be of one or two mindsets upon contact with the images - thrilled at the power and beauty of extra-large scale photographs or chilled by their cool detached rendering of culture at large.
At times, Gursky’s work has been characterized as a clinical or encyclopedic capturing of contemporary industry - economic activity that deals with the processing of raw materials and the manufacturing of goods. A concern with the object, whether it be, vacuum cleaners, luxury high-rises or fields of tulips, is revealed and abstracted. Gursky uses scale and point of view to remove viewers from a subjective personal experience of things. This strategy creates distance or an opening up of space for contemplation of greater organizational forces in society.
In a somewhat ominous image, titled Review, the backs of four seated individuals, from the shoulders up, span the bottom third of the horizontal image. The figures resemble heads of state, with one possibly being Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. They are seated in front of what appears to be a large red painting that takes up nearly the entire photograph and are enclosed in what appears to be a glass boardroom. The predominance of the color red in the image underscores the overwhelming nature of political power, while the glass may signify the fragility of that power. Together the turned backs and the glass suggest a paradox - the illusion of transparency. The proportion of the image taken up by the painting and the small scale of the figures is accentuated by smoke from a cigar billowing up into the red background - creating a disquieting sense of unease and mystery. The image is a striking example of a minimalist aesthetic using form and content to make a profound comment on the nature of politics and power in contemporary culture.
Several other images in the exhibition stretch the imagination by stimulating a speculative questioning in viewers. A landscape of solar panels in the image, Les Mées, captures the Les Mées solar farm in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, in southern France. The area known for the rolling hills of the La Colle des Mées plateau, is beautifully rendered in the photograph, which interlaces landscape photography, landscape painting (due to its monumental size) and commentary on renewable energy sources. Once again form and content are masterfully woven together, invoking a very real awareness of human being’s inescapable relationship to the environment.
Much of Gursky’s work is created with a large-scale camera and digital manipulation that creates a supreme clarity in his images that helps to generate a sense of emotional detachment in viewers, allowing them to unleash a critical eye on the workings of the world, and ultimately how all of humanity is tied together, one way or another.