Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2001)
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 25 June 2009, Lot 35
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Andreas Gursky, 2002, another example exhibited, p. 48, illustrated in colour
By 2000, developments in processing techniques meant that Gursky could produce images on a scale hitherto impossible. Harnessing the impact of scale, his vision of Shanghai towers three metres in height. This tall, vertical format enables Gursky to capture the architectural drama of his subject, the twenty-nine-storey atrium of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Shanghai which occupies the top 36 floors of the 88-storey Jin Mao Tower in the Pudong, the highest hotel in the world until it was eclipsed by its neighbour in 2007. One's first impression when visiting the hotel is to look up and feel dwarfed by the seemingly limitless succession of semicircular balconies spiralling upwards in a golden, futuristic, massive tube. Shunning the obvious upwards perspective which would emphasise the lobby's dizzying monumentality, Gursky's choice of vantage point and compositional structure is much more considered. By positioning his camera halfway up the edifice, Gursky's image places the viewer as if he were hovering in space in a seemingly impossible position. Depicting sixteen stories of the building, the eighth balcony in the exact centre of the photograph is presented in perfect frontal symmetry, while those above and below recede with geometric precision. To achieve this perspectival effect, the artist digitally stitches together multiple viewpoints so that the final image possesses a totality of vision which feels more real than the real thing, condensing the experience of the building into one holistic image. By carefully cropping his image, so that we see neither the reception desks on the lobby floor below us nor the ceiling above, he gives the impression that this structure continues ad infinitum beyond the parameters of his photograph.
However, as always with Gursky, in Shanghai the overall structure of the photograph is laced with small details and vignettes which offer the eye continual reward from a distance to close up. In the very centre, an open door offers a voyeuristic glimpse inside a hotel room; to the right, a lone female guest – a surrogate for us the viewer – leans on the railings and peers down into the void below her; below another guest, a dog and a stray cleaning trolley break up the uniformity of the lines. Through Gursky's lens, the human presence is dwarfed by the very structure that humankind has built for itself. These miniscule creatures appear like bees in a giant honeycomb structure, as if we are looking at them through a microscopic lens with the dispassionate empiricism of science. Each hotel room door hides another individual, each compartmentalised and regimented into identical cells. Like his later image of Stateville high security prison (Illinois, Stateville, 2002), Shanghai shows a different sort of cohabitation. Neighbours for the duration of their stay, the lives of the hundreds of guests in the hotel are unlikely to cross paths again. In Gursky's vision, a familiar scene of a hotel is rendered strangely foreign, forcing a critical reappraisal of the spatial organisation of our everyday lives. As we peer into this microcosm of society, we are increasingly aware of the chaos concealed within the ostensibly ordered exterior.
Exploring in such striking clarity and detail many of the themes that continue to resurface in Gursky's most recent body of work, Shanghai compels the viewer to reflect upon the frequently overlooked patterns imposed upon our lives by the shackles of the architectural spaces that we construct and choose to inhabit.
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