Exhibition Catalogue, Mälmo, Center for Contemporary Art, Andreas Gursky, 1995, n.p., illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Unser Jahrhundert. Menschenbilder-Bilderwelten, 1995, p. 121, illustration of another example in colour
Hans Irrek, Andreas Gursky: Montparnasse, Stuttgart 1995, illustration of another example in colour on the cover and throughout
Collier Schorr, ‘How Familiar Is It?’, Parkett, no. 44, Zurich 1995, pp. 84-85, illustration of another example in colour
Iwona Blazwick and Simon Wilson, Eds., Tate Modern: The Handbook, London 2000, pp. 41 and 52, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andreas Gursky, 2001, n.p. and pp. 110-111, pl. 28, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Centre Pompidou, Andreas Gursky, 2002, pp. 14-15, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Munich, Haus der Kunst, Andreas Gursky, 2007, pp. 28-29, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Darmstadt, Institut Matildenhöhe, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, p. 37, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Krefeld, Krefeld Kunstmuseum, Haus Lange und Haus Esters; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery, Andreas Gursky: Werke - Works 80 - 08, 2009, pp. 114-115, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Kunstmuseum Bonn; Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, THROUGH THE LOOKING BRAIN: A Swiss Collection of Conceptual Photography, 2011, n.p. illustration of another example in colour
Standing before Andreas Gursky’s monumental Paris, Montparnasse, we are undoubtedly confronted with a modern masterpiece. Consuming the viewer by nature of the sheer scale and scope of the magisterial composition, this epic panorama stands among the most refined, spectacular and iconic works by Andreas Gursky. With a further edition of the work housed in the prestigious Tate Collection, London, it ranks alongside the masterworks Rhein II (1999), 99 cent (1999) and Chicago Board of Trade II (1999). Displaying an extraordinary command of his artistic medium, Paris, Montparnasse celebrates Gursky’s formal and conceptual mastery that cements his place as a master of contemporary art practice. Underlined by his own brief manifesto; “I pursue one goal – the encyclopaedia of life” (the artist cited in: Helga Meister, ‘Fotografisches Lexicon des Lebens’, West-deutsche Zeitung, 3 May 2001, p. 20), Gursky’s photographs capture the landscape of our modern world, reflecting and representing mass society. The vast orthogonal façade that we witness in the present work provides a seminal subject matter that complements the factory pictures and those from the stock exchanges. These motifs broadcast how the human world accommodates itself to the rise of globalisation, high-tech and world-wide communication.
Drawn to the French capital like so many artistic luminaries before him, Gursky began taking photographs of the city in the early nineties. Even amid the myriad of architectural splendours that Paris affords, it is not surprising that Gursky was immediately drawn to the monumental edifice Immeuble d’habitation Maine-Montparnasse II as an inspiration for this masterful photograph. Designed by French architect Jean Dubuisson, and built on the rue Commandant-Mouchotte between 1959 and 1964, this building is comprised of 750 apartments that house 2,000 residents. The ‘Mouchotte Building’ is the single largest residential building in Paris and stands as an architectural giant of post-war modernism and a beacon of urban development. The area of Montparnasse, located in the 14th arrondissment on the left-bank of Paris, has long been associated as a cultural hub; during Les Années Folles (the Crazy Years) of the twenties and thirties, the area became a mecca for artistic and literary giants such as Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacommetti, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. The erection of Immeuble d’habitation Maine-Montparnasse II in the post-war years was born as result of large scale urban renewal in the city. Embracing its artistic heritage, it quickly became a bastion for cultural, social and political activity that would provide Gursky with the perfect subject matter for his documentation of society. In a conversation with Roland Barthes, Gursky remarked that “to go to the centre-city is to encounter the ‘social truth,’ to take part in the magnificent plenitude of ‘reality’” (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Andreas Gursky Works 80-08, 2008, p. 28).
Architecture is a central, monumental theme in Gursky’s work. In the case of Paris, Montparnasse, Gursky utilises his view of architecture as the quintessential human living space, to construct a magisterial composition that compresses “the issues and values of a civilised existence into a single ‘image that could stand for all images’” (Ralf Beil cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, p. 9). The architectural rigidity of Dubuisson’s design; the geometric regulation of regimented tessellated colour, the highly graphic grid of horizontal and vertical, concrete and aluminium bands and the geometry of the window frames, triggers Gursky’s deep engagement with high-art. Acutely aware of his artistic heritage, Gursky borrows liberally from other art forms to extend the range of his chosen media, enabling him to draw a close bond between painting and photography. Indeed, the grid is fundamental motif of Modernism and in the organised structure of Paris, Montparnasse, one can immediately sense the minimalist attributes of Piet Mondrian’s iconic grid formations and the formal properties of Gerhard Richter’s ‘Colour Charts’. As Peter Galassi explains, “Like the multiplicity of Richter’s subtle tints and hues, each in its place, the flickering asymmetry of the window treatments of Gursky’s individual apartments enlivens the massive, rigorously organised whole with the impression of abundant variety” (Peter Galassi, ‘Gursky’s World’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andreas Gursky, 2001, p. 33).
Marking a critical turning point in Gursky’s practice, Paris, Montparnasse presents one of the very first digitally manipulated images that the artist made. This approach would later go on to define his iconic practice. As he recalls; “since 1992 I have consciously made use of the possibilities offered by electronic picture processing, so as to emphasise formal elements that will enhance the picture, or, for example to apply a picture concept that in real terms of perspective would be impossible to realise” (the artist cited in: Lynne Cooke, ‘Andreas Gursky: Visonary (Per)versions’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Andreas Gursky – Photographs from 1984 to the Present, 1998, p. 14). Employing the long standing architectural photographic tradition of the wide-shot, the ominous elongated façade that we witness in this photograph cannot be viewed in reality. If one were to stand in front of the building, the view would be blocked by buildings from either side, rendering a single shot view impossible. It is in fact a view that exists only in Gursky’s pictorial reality. Via subtle digital renderings and modulations, we are confronted with a composition of supreme clarity and epic vision.
Gursky photographed this monumental edifice from an open atrium of the opposite hotel building in two separate shots. Utilising a supreme command of his technique, these two viewpoints are seamlessly converged, resulting in an absolutely flat image of this vast orthogonal façade. Draining the image of depth between the façade and the picture plane, Gursky crops the ends of the building off, delivering the impression that this building could potentially run forever. The result is a linear abstract composition that Gursky would later utiltise in Rhein II (1999). Gursky prefers, as a stylistic tool, to employ the long shot to structure his compositions. This enables not only wider macro-perspective but also micro-views of the building. Through this combination, Gursky has manipulated an immense array of pictorial data and perspective, overwhelming the viewer with an intense, arresting experience. Gursky’s supreme command of this discipline, further employed in fellow masterpieces 99 cent (1999) and Chicago Board of Trade II (1999), can be traced back to his days at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf where he studied under the tutelage of renowned photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. One can look back as far as 1984 and to the work Klausenpass, which Peter Galassi has cited as crucial in his development as an artist. Having taken the photograph at the request of a companion, Galassi reveals that, “six months later when he enlarged the negative, he was excited to find scattered across the landscape the tiny figures of hikers whose presence the photographer, unlike his camera, had failed to register at the time” (Peter Galassi, Op. Cit, p. 22). It was through this apparent ‘accident’ that Gursky discovered what one of the most rewarding aspects of photography is; the delectation of details too small and too incidental to have been noticed by the human eye.
In a single shot the views into the peripheral flats would have been diminished and the clarity blurred. By shooting both left and right halves of the façade from separate viewpoints, and via the artist’s seamless digital manipulation, Gursky enables the viewer’s eye to penetrate deeper into the individual apartments, drawing our attention to the deviations that destabilise the otherwise ordered pattern. Despite the regimental precision of the composition from afar, as the viewer gets closer, one is able to scrutinise Gursky’s amazingly detailed image. Within the overall landscape of the work, there is a countless variety of individual systems, of visions of life all reduced to room-size. As our eyes dart from window to window, we are drawn to the intimate interiors of each room; artist’s easels, stacks of books and individual figures peering out - seemingly oblivious to the eye that records them, all provide the viewer with a rich visual encounter. This voyeuristic standpoint has been likened to “the stance assumed by the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Rear Window’. Paris, Montparnasse becomes a ‘rear window’ blown up into megalomanical dimensions and tailored to the present day, whilst still maintaining the distance that is so decisive for Gursky” (Martin Hentschel, Op. Cit, p. 28). The multiplicity of shots allows Gursky to capture the constant change of happenings of the residents – via seamless conversion and compression of a multitude of images; we are able to witness with clarity the lives of its residents. Gursky’s mastery captures his subject and broadcasts it as “a gigantic vitrine of human life” (Ralf Beil, Op. Cit, p. 11).
Delivering one of the most conceptually powerful treatments of the photographic medium, Gursky’s, Paris, Montparnasse presents us with an outstanding vision of the artist’s visual language. Monumental not only in its immediate presence but also in its formal dialogue, its epic scale and faultless clarity stretches the concept of photography to its outermost limits. Ultimately, the undercurrent of social documentation encapsulates Hans Irrek’s statement that Gursky’s work “offers us the rare opportunity to follow an approach whose intention is nothing less than to find the one, universal image that contains in compressed form all the values of civilized existence” (Hans Irrek, ‘Fragmente einer Weltsicht’ in Exhibition Catalogue, Frankfurt, Portikus Frankfurt am Main, Andreas Gursky. Montparnasse, 1995, p.8).
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