Exh. Cat., Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum (and traveling), Andreas Gursky: Fotografien, 1994 - 1998, 1998, p. 71, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (and traveling), Andreas Gursky - Photographs from 1984 to the Present, 1998, p. 113, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunstmuseum; North Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, Grosse Illusionen: Demand, Gursky, Ruscha, 1999, p. 42, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Andreas Gursky, 2007, fig. 4, p. 54, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Krefeld, Kunstmuseen (and traveling), Andreas Gursky Werke-Works 80-08, 2008, p. 161, illustrated in color (another example)
When it comes to photography, Andreas Gursky navigates a course as only Gursky can. It is a course that he himself forged, one that ends in an apotheosis of the possibilities offered when technology collides with Post-Modern visual acumen. The resultant imagery is presented magnificently, lavishly, intelligently, and reverentially, and in Untitled VI, Gursky flexes his visual muscle at a moment in 1997 that marks the very apogee of Gursky's pre-eminent photographic practice. Composed with the same commanding visual orchestration and measured cadence that distinguishes the highest tier of Gursky's mature canon, Untitled VI is at once monumental yet minimalist, somber and reflective in its iconic status within contemporary art today, not only in its own capacity, but for its lyrical distillation and virtual harnessing of the protean aggressiveness of Jackson Pollock's epic One: Number 31, 1950, within its chromogenic borders.
One: Number 31, 1950, in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, is as synonymous to an art movement as it is to a Museum experience in the city of New York which bore the art movement of its maker. The painting made its imperious debut in 1950, at Jackson Pollock's fourth solo show at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The exhibition showcased some of his most seminal works, and the exhibition was reviewed in Art Digest as Pollock's "richest and most exciting to date." (Belle Krasne, Art Digest, December 1, 1950, n.p.). The painting is a verifiable behemoth - an immense network of furiously overlapping drips and splatters of shimmering enamel. It is a masterpiece of the "drip" technique and among the largest of Pollock's paintings. Begun approximately three years after his first painting in this style, the work is evidence of the artist's skill and technical prowess. Calligraphic, looping cords of color animate and energize every inch of the composition, which seems to expand visually despite its already sumptuous size. Pollock deliberately left a breathing space bordering all four sides of the field of paint - only when the painting was completed did Pollock determine where the edges should be. For the viewer, the scale can confuse and disorient us as we behold the image myopically: standing in close proximity, there is a ravishing intimacy to the work that beguiles the scale. As Pollock famously stated in 1950, "I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing: that it's direct," (interview by William Wright, Summer 1950, as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, ed., Clifford Ross, New York, 1990, p. 144).
A half a century divides Pollock's seminal masterpiece from Gursky's Untitled VI, but their ambition clearly translates across decades and medium. Gursky's appropriative interpretation must be understood less in what we see, but more in the manipulation of what we don't. "We are not really alone in a museum. Not a sound, not a movement in front of Jackson Pollock's monumental work...the only traces of action are in the painting...Let us remind ourselves of all the things that are not visible on Gursky's photograph...casually dressed young people carrying rucksacks or large shoulder bags standing in front of the Pollock paintings in the room....[Gursky] places Pollock's horizontal-format painting right in the middle of the photograph, between a strip of ceiling and a strip of carpet. The concealed row of lights above the painting, the same grey color as the ceiling, blurs the upper end of the wall, which is rendered immaterial by the indirect lighting. It is even less clear where the wall on which the painting is hanging ends and the carpeted floor begins, for under the painting and its narrow shadow the light creates a diffuse area of chiaroscuro. The Pollock painting seems to be floating on a cushion of air...Even if Gursky transports Jackson Pollock's painting into a contemplative sphere, he is not afraid of creating a link between the masterpiece of perfectly formed formlessness and the Prada principle. It is a look into the display cabinet a shrine for an ornament. (Annelie Lütgens, in Exh. Cat. Supplement, Wolfsberg, Kunstmuseum, Andreas Gursky Fotografien 1994-1998, 1998, p. XIX).Whereas Pollock explored scale and composition in radically new ways, herein Gursky's reductive schema shares a commonality with a Post-modern conception of the sublime.
The horizontality of the composition is a format Gursky favored in such images as the variants of Prada (1996-1998) and Rhein, 1998. Art historian Beate Soentgen has suggested that Gursky's insistence on horizontality reinforces the link between his photographs and the technical elements of painting. Soentegn asserts "the way in which Gursky uses the [horizontal] bands seems to activate the expressive pictorial structure the Abstract Expressionists already borrowed from Romanticism, as much as it does the explicitly expressionless order of Minimalist or Conceptualist pictures...we cannot be sure whether the expression stems from the represented things or from the representation." (Beate Soentgen in Exh. Cat. Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Andreas Gursky, 2007, p. 55). Gursky's slender abstract geometry proffers a lateral cogency and acts as a photographic counterpart to the minimal painterly schema of Barnett Newman, another master of ethereal Minimalism. In Gursky's image, the digital elimination of the accumulation of people renders his photograph into the temporal, therefore endowing the image of seminal One: Number 31, 1950 with timelessness, while reinforcing an expression of the very "here-and-now" communicated within the planar starkness of Gursky's reductive aesthetic. Simultaneously merging a reverent melancholy with cool commerciality, Gursky's virtuoso skill subverts the viewer's preconception of photography's claim to truth in wavering between an allusion to expansive and divine nature or manufactured two-dimensionality.
In a way, Gursky's photograph of Pollock's masterful drip painting inverts the traditional conceptions of the mediums at hand. In their execution, Pollock's drip paintings utilize the force of speed and motion, qualities not commonly associated with painting technique prior to his use of the splatter and the drip. Gursky's Untitled VI, is highly composed, with the image's individual characteristics adjusted by the artist after the snap of the shutter. In uncomplicated terms, it is a slow photograph of a fast painting. Where Pollock embraced chance in his technique, Gursky employs technological control. As Pollock released something of the artist's unique instinctual character, Gursky exposes the cultural frameworks that govern the reception and understanding of what we see as art. In so doing, Gursky creates a new experiential document with his 'picture within a picture.' Through his "appropriation" of Pollock's work, Gursky effectively de-sacralizes painting via the mechanical reproduction of the original piece. Thus through the artist's lens, the unique stroke is rendered as a document of that stroke; and in the mind's eye, Pollock's randomness is distilled down to a sameness, reproducible ad infinitum. Untitled VI therefore becomes a prodigiously insightful Post-Modern commentary on the role technological reproduction plays in shaping the modern day aesthetic experience of photography. Gursky dismantles our assumptions of traditional aesthetic notions of creativity and genius by reproducing a seminal artwork, created by one of the scions of Post War painting, and therefore, dismantling our perception of the aura of the work itself.
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