by Eleonora Milner

Andreas Gursky marks the beginning of the Hayward Gallery's 50the anniversary year and is the first exhibition to take place in the gallery following its refurbishment.  The Hayward Gallery is an art gallery within the Southbank Centre. Founded in 1968, it is an independent, pioneering and influential force in the visual arts both nationally and internationally. Located within one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture, it has become known for its programme of groundbreaking contemporary exhibitions. The Grusky's exhibition (25 Jan - 22 Apr 20) is the first major UK retrospective of the work of acclaimed German photographer. For the first time since the Hayward’s original opening, the gallery’s pyramid roof lights will allow natural light into the spaces below.

© Installation view Andreas Gursky at Hayward Gallery, London

The exhibition explores the work of Gursky through photographs he has made over the past four decades, ranging from pioneering early works to new pictures made in the past year. Gursky is best known as someone who has been an audacious chronicler of the global economy, and documented the epic sights that global capitalism has produced. Known for his large-scale, often spectacular pictures that portray emblematic sites and scenes of the global economy and contemporary life, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant photographers of our time. The exhibition includes some of the artist's most well known works including Paris, Montparnasse (1993) and Rhine II (1999/2015) a sleek digitally-tweaked vision of the river as a contemporary minimalist symbol. 

© Installation view Andreas Gursky at Hayward Gallery, London

© Installation view Andreas Gursky at Hayward Gallery, London

I think that Gurky's photography resist simplistic readings and that the most interesting part of the exhibition is that one which departs from some of his most well-known pictures. It's where he critically expands the possibilities of the medium. Gursky's photography can be surprisingly ambiguous: his pictures often reflect on the paradoxes of photography. 

During the 80s while studying at the Dusseldorf art academy under Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gursky made a series of photos of people engaged in leisure activities in and around Dusseldorf. In Klausen Pass (1984) an image that the artist took at the request of a friend during a journey through the Swiss alps. The figures in this image are arranged in what Gursky describes as a perfect constellation across a hillside, a fact that the artist only noticed when he enlarged the negative, long after the photo was taken. Speaking of this image and others taken during a similar period Gursky comments that «the camera's enormous distance from these figures means that they become de-individualised.» Driven by an interest and insight into «the way that the world is constituted», as well as what he describes as «the pure joy of seeing», Gursky makes photographs that are not just depictions of places or situations, but reflections on the nature of image-making and the limits of human perception. 

Along with monumental images that depict entire architectural structures, Gursky has also taken photos which challenge our thinking as well as our eyes. He focused on non-heroic elements of grand public buildings, floors, ceiling panels, lights, to create highly patterned spatially disorientating semi abstract images. This is the case in Paris Pcf (2003) a study of the lamellate ceiling lights in the underground conference. Another kind of double seeing is prompted by the seemingly abstract work Untitled I (1993) an extreme close-up of a square of grey carpet in Dusseldorf's kunsthalle art gallery. With his work, which is both representational and purely formal, Gursky explores photo's capacity for abstraction, and defies our expectations about what is worth photographing.

Throughout his career Gurky has explored the relationship between painting and photography and has occasionally made painting the subject of his photographs. The formal concerns runs through all of the artist's work. In Turner Collection (1995) three canvases by British artist J.M.W Turner are shown in their gallery setting, in a manner that gives equal attention to the works, walls, floor and labels. Over the past three decades Gursky has increasingly made use of computer-enabled post-production techniques. Utah (2017), a vast cinematic work inspired by a photograph Gursky took on his phone from a moving car, is a monumental homage to the usually small-scale mobile photo-casual, immediate, disposable- and the outsized role that mobile phone photography plays in today's visual culture. In recent years, Gursky's experiments in manipulating images have led him to create examples of fictional photography, extending his implicit questioning of our faith in the factual veracity of images. How photography represent reality? As he has remarked, today, «reality can only be shown by constructing it. He is constantly questioning what the boundaries of photography are» said Ralph Rugoff, the Director of Hayward Gallery and future Curator of the 58th Venice Biennale.


Andreas Gursky
Hayward Gallery