Andreas Gursky at White Cube Bermondsey

Filed in Reviews by on June 12, 2014

Andreas Gursky

White Cube Bermondsey

30 April to 6 July 2014

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It is hard to think of a space more fitting for the display of Andreas Gursky’s monumental photographs than the clinical, imposing architecture of Bermondsy’s White Cube Gallery. Featuring a thoughtful selection of works – ranging from those done fifteen years ago to his most current creations – the exhibition offers an insight into the development and practice of an incredibly accomplished artist.

Gursky’s name will be familiar to many outside the usual art circles – having made headlines in 2011 when Rhein II became the most expensive photograph ever sold. It is a shame when an artist’s name becomes so attached to one image’s monetary value, particularly when there is enough artistic merit in their body of work to warrant attention.

A uniting factor in all the photographs is the sheer amount of detail they hold. So much so that in works like May Day IV, an aerial view of festival goers that conveys a sense of hive-like activity, the eye is bombarded with information. No matter where the eye flits it is greeted with the same level of focus to be found elsewhere in the image. Coupled with an effective composition a feeling of intense scale is conveyed – that this mass of people, acting as individuals but also as a whole, could go on forever. This use of detail (accomplished through large-format photography and digital manipulation) is put to very different use in Bangkok II. Fluorescent smudges of light appear as abstract painterly marks. However a closer inspection reveals detritus left afloat in a river. The work suddenly achieves a dual nature – having at first recalled a history of painting but then managing to highlight the ugly, throw away nature of consumerism. This is one of Gursky’s key strengths – being able to address the history of art whilst simultaneously revealing the structures that underpin late capitalism.

Gursky has always been upfront about the use of digital manipulation in his work. With this in mind it is interesting to think about what photography actually means in an age of photo-editing. Photography’s original strength was one of accuracy in representation, a strength that played a part in painting’s shift towards abstraction. A photo could not invent; only reproduce what was put before its lens – there was an overriding sense of truth with photography: that the ‘camera never lies’. Obviously those days are long gone – photography can now tell ‘lies’much like painting does, simply replacing the pigment with pixels.This liberation comes at an unsettling cost, for the lies that photography tells can be all the more convincing. It is without a doubt that Gursky is aware of this and exploits it to devilish effect. The viewer is left wondering just how much is real and how much has been altered to suit Gursky’s vision.

The exhibition’s display of his latest work shows quite a large step in the artist’s development – it is just questionable if this step is in the right direction. SH I, SH II, SH III and SH IV all have a much stronger narrative element, inspired as they are by comic-book super heroes – Superman sits alone on a ravaged planet, Iron Man stares into the eyes of his love. The images are incredibly kitsch and seem to lack the maturity and refined quality of the rest of the exhibition. Gursky achieves something altogether more interesting in his photos of the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg. Iconic works of art strategically placed in the strikingly cold interior of the museum allow for a reflection to occur. Not only do the works act as a window – to an exhibition within an exhibition – but also as a mirror to the idea of the White Cube, whose strong lines and hallowed spaces are so integral to the consumption of contemporary art.

In just twenty-four images the White Cube charts a sizeable and varied portion of Andreas Gursky’s artistic practice – enough to satisfy both an avid admirer of his work or those completely new to his photography. It achieves what all good exhibitions should – it makes you remember his name and it makes you be certain to look out for shows of his work in the future.

 

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Peter Vance

About the Author ()

Peter Vance - a visual artist based in London - graduated from Camberwell College of Art in 2013 and is now trying to find his place in the real world. Wish him luck.

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