Opening a show of new works in Berlin, artist Andreas Gursky arrives yet again at a prime moment of reflection and consideration for the inhabitants of modernity, offering up a selection of photographs that welcome a renewed perspective on the state of the world, and the forces that shape it. Featuring the artist’s first new body of work in almost three years, Gursky’s exhibition in the Berlin outpost of Sprüth Magers addresses a range of themes that the artist has investigated for decades, and often revisits settings such as the Rhine river and Hong Kong’s futuristic cityscapes to explore new contexts and sets of information layered over by the current state of the world. Gursky looks anew at our built environment and humankind’s impact on the natural world.
In a number of works, Gursky returns to the actual physical environs of previous works, shooting the locations again as a way to reflect and recontextualize. Rhine III (2018–19) revisits Gursky’s important work Rhine II (1999) — the dimensions, setting and composition of both are almost identical. And yet, just twenty years later, the landscape and mood have drastically altered. The drought of summer 2018 reduced the river to a record low, and the new picture offers a dry, dystopian vision of the once flourishing riverside. As Gursky builds an “Encyclopedia of Life,” he revisits and reinterprets familiar settings, keeping up with the impact of human habitation on the appearance of the world. Similarly, his renewed photos of Hong Kong pose a city in the aftermath of the violent clashes between government forces and protestors, and feel charged with a new, ominous energy.
Andreas Gursky, Schweine I (Pigs I) (2020), via Sprüth Magers
In other works, he continues his investigation of mass-scale industries and the structures that are shaped by them. The monumental photograph Kreuzfahrt (Cruise) (2020) shows a colossal cruise ship still in the process of being constructed. Here is a human habitation atomized into a modernist grid, a hulking structure that travelers choose to inhabit temporarily, as a form of leisure. In an age of urban overcrowding, migration, and an ongoing pandemic, does the cruise ship represent a spirit of adventure, a longing for isolation or a need for anonymity? The composition, which despite the immense size of the photographic print doesn’t reveal the full scale of the cruise ship, brings to mind a vast minimalist sculpture.
Throughout, Gursky draws on a world in constant negotiation with force and time, welcoming the question of just what might come next, and asking just what these scenes might look like in another 20 years.
The show closes November 14th.
– J. Haines
Andreas Gursky [Exhibition Site]