Andreas Gursky is a German visual artist known for his large format architecture and landscape color photographs, often employing a high point of view. Rhein II, an image by Gursky, fetched $4.3m (£2.7m) at Christie’s, New York on November 8, 2011, becoming the most expensive photograph ever sold.
He was born in Leipzig in 1955, but he grew up in Düsseldorf, the son of a commercial photographer. In the early 1980s, at Germany’s State Art Academy, the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Gursky received strong training and influence from his teachers Hilla and Bernd Becher, a photographic team known for their distinctive, dispassionate method of systematically cataloging industrial machinery and architecture. Gursky demonstrates a similarly methodical approach in his own larger-scale photography. Other notable influences are the British landscape photographer John Davies, whose highly detailed high vantage point images had a strong effect on the street level photographs Gursky was then making, and to a lesser degree the American photographer Joel Sternfeld.
Before the 1990s, Gursky did not digitally manipulate his images. In the years since, Gursky has been frank about his reliance on computers to edit and enhance his pictures, creating an art of spaces larger than the subjects photographed. Writing in The New Yorker magazine, the critic Peter Schjeldahl called these pictures “vast,” “splashy,” “entertaining,” and “literally unbelievable.” In the same publication, critic Calvin Tomkins described Gursky as one of the “two masters” of the “Düsseldorf” school. In 2001, Tomkins described the experience of confronting one of Gursky’s large works:
“The first time I saw photographs by Andreas Gursky…I had the disorienting sensation that something was happening—happening to me, I suppose, although it felt more generalized than that. Gursky’s huge, panoramic color prints—some of them up to six feet high by ten feet long—had the presence, the formal power, and in several cases the majestic aura of nineteenth-century landscape paintings, without losing any of their meticulously detailed immediacy as photographs. Their subject matter was the contemporary world, seen dispassionately and from a distance.”
Visually, Gursky is drawn to large, anonymous, man-made spaces—high-rise facades at night, office lobbies, stock exchanges, the interiors of big box retailers (See his print 99 Cent II Diptychon). In a 2001 retrospective, New York’s Museum of Modern Art called the artist’s work, “a sophisticated art of unembellished observation. It is thanks to the artfulness of Gursky’s fictions that we recognize his world as our own.” Gursky’s style is enigmatic and deadpan. There is little to no explanation or manipulation on the works. His photography is straightforward.
Gursky’s Dance Valley festival photograph, taken near Amsterdam in 1995, depicts attendees facing a DJ stand in a large arena, beneath strobe lighting effects. The pouring smoke resembles a human hand, holding the crowd in stasis. After completing the print, Gursky explained the only music he now listens to is the anonymous, beat-heavy style known as Trance, as its symmetry and simplicity echoes his own work—while playing towards a deeper, more visceral emotion.
As of end 2011, Gursky holds a new record for highest price paid at auction for a single photographic image. His print “Rhein II” sold for USD $4,338,500 at Christie’s, New York on 8 November 2011. (via)