Oh, the nineties. Bill Clinton and Cool Britannia. Oasis and Nirvana. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the X-FILES…
And Andreas Gursky.
Gursky was a German photographer who became an art world sensation. He was having major exhibitions and breaking records at auctions right and left. His large format photographs used breakthroughs in digital manipulation and printing techniques to create something brand new. It was fantastic.
Museum crowds came clamoring.
They weren’t only interesting at first glance. You could spend hours looking at them finding new details, new patterns, things that Gursky had manipulated to create what, at first, looked like a normal photograph into something completely else. Something which often didn’t actually exist in the real world.
They “said” all sorts of things about consumerism, human behavior, urban life, the planet, etc., etc.,…But most of all, they were just f*cking cool.
The small photos on this page do not do them justice. Their large size was not a luxury or something Gursky did just because he could. Their epic scale is essential to experiencing them.
So don’t judge Gurksy’s work by the images on this page.
These are postcards, thumbnails, rough sketches of the real works. They are reminders to jar the memories of those that have previously seen his works in person. They are invitations to spark interest in those that have not.
The fact is, there is no way to really experience or judge a Gursky photograph other than by standing in front of one.
Luckily, his fame and cache have ensured that almost every museum in the world worth its salt has one, if not several. Whether they are on display at the time of your visit is a different story. Museums tend to own far more art than they can ever actually show at any given time.
But try. If Covid restrictions relax and you have a moment, go to a museum. Find a Gursky. Stand in front of it and judge for yourself.
By the way, Gursky is still working and producing new work. He never stopped. In fact he was scheduled to have new shows in China, Italy and Germany over the last year or so. Unfortunately, Covid threw a monkey wrench into most of those plans.
But the point is, Gursky is alive and well and cranking out new stuff as we speak.
All the same, for me, and for many people, he will always be associated with that particular decade of the nineties. Back when they were so new. So exciting. So different from anything anyone else was doing back then.
Maybe that’s wrong, given that he is still very active. He probably deserves better than to be relegated to a time, decades ago.
In truth, it probably says as much about me and my life as about his.
The result of very personal, nostalgic, associations of someone now two or three decades older than they were way back then. The younger version of myself so thrilled and excited by Gursky’s epic photos now far older and harder to impress.
But, older or not, I still know this. Whenever I go to see a Gursky, I am not just thinking of my own past and waxing nostalgic. I stand in front of them looking closely at their detail. I stand back and experience their massive scale. Their rhythm and pattern. Their power.
And, inevitably, I find myself thinking the exact same thing as I did way back when.
“This is so cool.”