Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2009
Exhibition Catalogue, Kiev, Pinchuk Art Centre, Rhine on the Dnipro-Julia Stoschek Collection/Andreas Gursky, 2008, n.p. (text)
Exhibition Catalogue, Krefeld, Museum Haus Lange und Museum Haus Esters, (and travelling), Andreas Gursky: Werke 80-08, 2008-09, p. 235, illustration of another example in colour
Bernard Mendes Bürgi ‘Foreword’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Andreas Gursky, 2007-08, p. 46.
Andreas Gursky has pioneered a practice in which photography has come to rival the lofty ambitions of history painting. Subverting the medium’s claim to indexical truth – the mechanical evidence of documenting ‘that which has been’ – his pictures deliver powerfully seductive panoramas, hyperbolic yet formally restrained portrayals of our contemporary age from a truly global perspective. Together, these monumental pictures deliver an all-encompassing world-view designed to fulfil the artist’s famous taxonomical aim to amass an ‘encyclopaedia of life’. Kathedrale I from 2007 narrates the very moment at which Gursky comes closest to accomplishing this objective. Harnessing radical developments in digital editing and utilising an international level of critical acclaim garnered during the preceding decade, Gursky’s 2000s practice evinces amplified technical and conceptual ambition. Moreover, from this important decade, 2007 is undoubtedly the standout year: this is the year in which Gursky produced some of the most ambitious pictures of his career to date. Alongside Kathedrale I, in 2007 Gursky created the elaborate cycle of F1 Pit Stop diptychs; the peaen to global air travel that is Frankfurt; the sublime aerial views of a fantastical archipelago in Thailand, James Bond Island I-III; depictions of the exotic man-made archipelago in Dubai, Dubai World I-III; portrayals of the Korean state-organised spectacle of Arirang Festival, Pyongyang I-V; the penultimate of Gursky’s stock exchange cycle, Kuwait Stock Exchange I; and the otherworldly image of the neutrino observatory in Japan, Kamiokande. Having weighted his inquiry towards a portrayal of Western capitalist system throughout the 1990s (evident in works such as Prada I and II (1996-97), 99 Cent (1999), Toys “R” Us (1999), and most famously the iconic suite of on-going Stock Exchange pieces initiated in 1992), after 2000 Gursky’s practice became truly universal in both ideological and geographical scope. Alongside world economics, Gursky looked to the architecture of science, travel, sport, politics, religion, and industry across the globe, from Korea, Japan, Thailand, Dubai, Kuwait, Shanghai, and back to Europe. Herein, Kathedrale I, a view of the interior of Chartres Cathedral, illuminates the artist’s contemporary take on the historical and monumental architecture of worship.
Forming a piece in Gursky’s global puzzle, the present work collectively conforms to the artist’s utterly inimitable structural vision and ordering gaze. Kathedrale I possesses the same signature balance between a disembodied ‘allover’ composition and rigid linearity; tropes often compared to the formal devices of Minimalism and Abstract Expressionist painting. The faint gridded outline of brickwork, the geometric tessellation of shapes within each window pane, and the unmistakable Gurskian stage of planar horizontal strips in the lower composition are exploited as essential abstract devices further underlined by the picture’s cool, and almost expressionless, colour palette. These compositional elements serve to underline the fact that this image is bricolage. The absence of supporting pillars to buttress the weight of colossal lead windows and their almost stacked proximity to each other, are architectural impossibilities. Constructed from countless individual pictures processed to blend seamlessly together, Gursky digitally demolishes and reconstructs the Gothic cathedral. Passed through Gursky’s morphological eye, Chartres becomes a modernist and secular super-structure of seemingly endless repetition and replication.
Countering this rigid abstract uniformity is the picture’s marked allusion to painterly tropes forged by the eighteenth-century pioneers of Romanticism. In the lower right of the composition, a group of filmmakers (one of whom is the acclaimed German director Wim Wenders), pale into insignificance against the towering expanse of Chartres’ famous stained glass windows. Bathed in an implied celestial light streaming through the glass mosaic, this diminutive human element evokes the work of Caspar David Friedrich or Joseph Mallord William Turner, in which the sublime light of God and grandiosity of nature dwarf observers into rapt contemplation. In Gursky’s picture, rather than presenting dutiful worship, these figures show little sign of reverence. Photographed in his studio and not on-location, these figures have been woven into Gursky’s bricolage as part of the image’s overarching pictorial scaffold. Much like the artist behind the camera, they are ingrained in their own act of image making, appearing for the most part disinterested in, and disconnected from, the grand pious architecture looming behind them. To this end, there are a number of salient indicators which signal an overriding impression of waning grandeur. The usually resplendent and jewel-like windows of Chartres are here totally drained of colour and thus inform a faded, almost monochromatic, schema that coupled with the rubble heap and gaping hole in the stone flagged floor, evince a sense of decline and ruin.
In stark comparison, Kamiokande (also created in 2007) forms this picture’s conceptual counterpart. Taken 1km under Mount Kamioka in Japan, Gursky’s Kamiokande is a supernatural image of the neutrino observatory that facilitates the Super-Kamioka Neutrino Detection Experiment. Constructed of thousands of golden orb-like photo-tubes, this cavernous tank was built to record the subatomic behaviour of particles, specifically for the study of elusive neutrinos. Depicting two scientists in yellow dinghies staring in utter rapture at the awe-inspiring structure that engulfs them, this photograph is an unbridled celebration of science; in a promethean feat of observing existence at a subatomic level, the golden-ornamental glow of scientific achievement illuminates man’s will to power through knowledge. In a similar vein to the Gothic cathedral and its glorification of God through architecture, Kamiokande is an image of the twenty-first century church; imbued with religiosity, the Kamioka neutrino observatory is a shining High Altar offered up to science and progress. At the other end of the scale, Kathedrale I is a melancholic vision of an archaic order emptied of piety; seen through Gursky’s lens Chartres becomes both a monumental historic relic, and an endlessly repeating monochromatic abstraction.
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