Lot 11
  • 11

Andreas Gursky

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
bidding is closed


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

  • 307 by 217cm.
  • 120 7/8 by 85 3/8 in.
  • Executed in 2005, this work is number one from an edition of six.


White Cube, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Kunstmuseum, Andreas Gursky, 2007-08, p. 109, illustration of another example in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, p. 92, illustration of another example in colour, and in detail on the front cover

Catalogue Note

"In Gursky's work every photograph addresses the complex theme and thus primordial significance of architecture." (Ralf Beil, 'Just what is it that makes Gursky's photos so different, so appealing?' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, p. 10)

Primordial architecture is the very quintessence of Andreas Gursky's monumental Cheops. Executed in 2005, Gursky's colossal photograph of the oldest and largest of the Ancient Egyptian pyramids, confronts the viewer with a magnificent expanse of crumbling edifice. Subverting our preconceived semantic conception of Egyptian pyramids and their associated pictorial signification, Gursky's grandiose photograph evokes the ultimate in minimalist structure; a Carl Andre or Donald Judd infinitely replicated, ancient and deteriorating. Towering an immense three metres, Gursky's Cheops is a sublime all-consuming examination of order and decay; a rumination on ancient history, civilization and architecture from the contemporary perspective of our globalised epoch. 

Architecture is the elemental framework of Gursky's lens.  Etymologically broken down, the word stems from the original Greek and Latin for arché (origin) and tectum or techné (building). As Ralf Beil has stated, architecture provides our fundamental cultural bedrock, the totality of an environment as impacted by human civilization (Ralf Beil, 'Just what is it that makes Gursky's photos so different, so appealing?' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, p. 10). Since the early 1990s Gursky has famously depicted the architectural structures and spaces of late capitalist society: omniscient Gods-eye perspectives of stock exchanges, factory halls, apartment blocks, shopping malls, research labs and high-rise construction sites underline a universal constant to the structural patterns of human intervention within our age of rapid urbanisation.  Focussed on the very earliest feat of monumental human achievement, Cheops at once bridges an evocation of the primordial with the abstract organisational structures universally symptomatic of human activity – an aesthetic trait that permeates throughout Gurksy's oeuvre. Stringently anchored to Gurksy's metaphysical artistic conceit, Cheops emblematises the artist's quest to compress the values of civilised existence into a single "image that could stand for all images" (the artist cited in: Ibid., p.9). Indeed, the notion of compression pivotal to Gursky's synthesis of multiple viewpoints is here deployed to spectacular effect.

An impossible image, not only for the naked eye but also for the single lens, Cheops represents the sum of many photographic parts. The evocation of a sole awesome vantage point belies the technical construction behind Gursky's image. Composed from multiple views and perspectives, processed, compressed and cogently organised using digital-manipulation, Gursky subtly distorts reality and exploits the concept of 'truth' associated with photography. Combined with the immense physical size and towering format of Gursky's image, Cheops engenders a supra-real evocation of a sublime landscape that rhythmically wavers between cognition and incomprehension. The absence of any quantitative or human element posits scale as indecipherable, while our conception of horizon is similarly thwarted: the viewer's field of vision is entirely saturated by an infinite wall of ancient rock that towers supremely overhead, stretching towards the heavens. Perhaps an allusion to the Tower of Babel, Gursky's decaying sky-scraping monument recalls the competition between God and man associated with this biblical myth. A prodigious human race unified through the commonality of one language, the achievements of the citizens of Babel, epitomized by the construction of a tower whose 'top may reach unto heaven', incited the impedance of God.  Indeed, the pyramids themselves represent the mastery of an ancient civilization; as towering funerary monuments they are architecturally symbolic of such an interface between heaven and earth, God and man. Perhaps Gursky metaphorically alludes to the Icarian heights of our contemporary moment – a civilization united and driven by the universal language of commerce.

In his photograph Gursky fundamentally alienates our internal concept of what a pyramid is; the excess of minimal forms constitutes an iconoclasm of the Ancient Egyptian monument (Jann Assman, 'Squaring the Triangle' in: Op. Cit., p. 94). Cheops the pyramid is vertically flattened and formally abstracted into a towering expanse of varying monochrome. The aging limestone subjected to the weathering disintegration of time proffers an abstract essay of nuanced and undulating tonality. Ordered into a seemingly endlessly repeating Brancusian column, Gursky's manipulation employs the devices of minimalism to convert the landscape into a formalist image, thereby offering a distinctly twentieth-century approach to viewing nature. All at once, Gursky manipulates a reading of sublime landscape as passed through the modernist lens of abstraction and minimalism to compound an encompassing meditation on civilisation as mediated by ancient architecture. As propounded by Jürgen Tietz: "Without architecture, human society would be inconceivable." (Jürgen Tietz in: Op. Cit. p. 10). Indeed, through Cheops Gursky presents a truly awe-inspiring image that locates the very root of the inevitable correlation of civilisation and architecture that spans the breadth of his oeuvre.