Lot 12
  • 12

Andreas Gursky

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
517,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Andreas Gursky
  • Monaco
  • cibachrome print in artist's frame


Galerie Volker Diehl, Berlin
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Exhibition Catalogue, Munich, Haus der Kunst, Andreas Gursky, 2007, pp. 80-81, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Kunstmuseum, Andreas Gursky, 2007-08, p. 113, illustration of another example in colour

Catalogue Note

"You never notice arbitrary details in my work. On a formal level, the countless interrelated micro and macro structures are woven together, determined by an overall organizational principle" (the artist cited in Exhibition Catalogue, Edinburgh, The Dean Gallery, Andreas Gursky: Photographs 1994-1998, 1999, p. 5).

Executed in 2006, Monaco is one of Andreas Gursky's most subtly complex and most highly considered photographs from his recent series of Formula One racing. Offered for the first time at auction, another version of this famous image was included in last year's acclaimed survey of his work at the Kunstmuseum, Basel. Ostensibly a breathtaking image of the Grand Prix de Monaco and its host Mediterranean city-state in all its magnificent grandeur, Gursky's real skill in Monaco resides in his ability to transform the traditional genre of landscape into a vitrine of contemporaneity and a vehicle for expressing his quintessentially post-modern concerns.

Impossible to convey in reproduction, the cinematic scale of Gursky's lens is quite simply awe-inspiring. Situated on high, we look down vertiginously on the scene in the streets below where the Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, McLaren and Honda teams prepare to engage in battle, while simultaneously looking out to the famous harbour and the Mediterranean horizon beyond. A familiar view for anyone who resides in one Monaco's seafront high-rise apartment blocks, Gursky subtly enhances the vertical sweep of his image by digitally joining multiple images, so that standing in front of this monumental work – over three metres in height – the beholder has the sensation of an almost godlike, all-seeing perspective with numerous viewpoints compressed into one. Although one of Gursky's more complex and busy images, it is nonetheless rigorously ordered. Dividing his composition horizontally into three layers – the street scene, the stadiums, and the harbour beyond – Gursky keeps each in perfect focus, so that as a whole it gives the impression of a rich tapestry of detail which offers the eye continual reward from a distance to close up.

In the bottom tier, each car is surrounded by a throng of uniformed team members, each reduced to an ant-like form by Gursky's dispassionate lens. In this hive of activity, numerous narratives are played out by the individuals who act their parts in this grand spectacle. Yet it is the overarching order, the generic rather than the specific, which is emphasized by Gursky's unique perspective. The chaos of the pre-race preparations, the adrenaline-fuelled moments of tension and frenzy, are cooled and distilled into clarity. By gently enhancing the colours, in particular the Renault blue and the Ferrari red, the cohorts of participants are regimented into two opposing teams, so that instead of individuals we see the subconscious overarching systems that link them all together. A master colourist, Gursky gently heightens these two specific hues throughout the rest of the image, so that numerous incidents in the composition jump out in red and blue, meshing the whole together.

In the central band, our attention is drawn towards a lone car that has spun out of control on one of the circuits infamously dangerous bends. Taking place on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine, including the famous harbour seen here, the many elevation changes and tight corners make the circuit one of the most demanding courses in Formula One racing. Rather than showing just one moment in the race, Gursky collages multiple scenes from different moments in the race, so that the image becomes atemporal. In many ways, this is a pictorial strategy akin to early narrative painting, in which protagonists would appear in multiple places within a single composition at different stages of the narrative, from which the viewer would deduce the story and receive the impression of the passage of time.

In the upper half of the composition, the matrix of yachts line up like the rows of spectators and hint at the concentration of wealth in the world's most densely populated sovereign country. The magnificence of the scene, the open sky and the busy marine activity, calls to mind a latter day harbour view by the masters of the landscape genre, like Claude Lorraine's famous Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648, in the National Gallery, London. The analogy to painting is an important one, for Gursky is the key protagonist in establishing parity between photography and painting in contemporary art practice. Acutely aware of his artistic heritage, he borrows liberally from other art forms to extend the range of his chosen media. Here, the three-layered composition is an open emulation of one the compositional devices of classical painting. Like Caspar David Friedrich, he creates amazing force through a commanding pictorial scaffold which, when scrutinised, reveals the incredible premeditation and control that goes into Gursky's image-making. While Friedrich deployed such breathtaking devices to illustrate the divine order of existence, Gursky uses similar techniques to expose the subconscious order that permeates contemporary society. While Friedrich shows the beauty of nature, Gursky shows the intrinsic beauty of our own manmade environment, the containers within which we lead our existence.