In stark contrast to Gursky’s previous works, Chicago Board of Trade II and 99 Cents, focusing exclusively on the hypercapitalism of the west, the Pyongyang series of five images captures a dramatic display from the last outpost of communist dictatorship. During his 2007 visit to North Korea, Gursky photographed the spectacular Arirang Festival which annually celebrates the birth of the late Kim Il Sung. The festival, taking place in the Rungnado May Day Stadium, marks the beginning of the two month celebratory period and requires tens of thousands of hand selected gymnasts to perform the painstakingly choreographed spectacle with mechanical precision. Behind them, thirty thousand strictly disciplined high school students are elevated, each holding twelve different colored card sheets that are to be shown at the correct appointed time to create intricate and beautiful mosaic patterns charged with patriotic symbols throughout the spectacle.
Upon first glance, the viewer immediately perceives the scene from the typical Gursky prospective— tangentially 30 degrees from above. Geographically, there is no doubt where this photograph is taken even if Gursky makes conscious effort to avoid including any acknowledgments of Kim Il Sung or propagandistic symbols of communistic beliefs. The most intensely chromatic of the series of five, Pyongyang IV masterfully captures a sea of red performers holding their seemingly peaceful pompoms overhead with frighteningly meticulous precision, showcasing the might and discipline of the communist rule. As the eye scans the photograph, row upon row of fuchsia-clad dancers emulate horizontal waves of vibrant and powerful motion emanating from the North Korea centric globe which acts as the central hub of the piece and of their world. The communist methodology is masterfully woven within this performance of precision where individuality is not accepted. The entire performance relies on the conformity of thousands of performers.
Unlike Gursky’s other images of crowds, such as Stockmarket and Dortmund, where he must artfully freeze the frame to successfully capture a snapshot of the chaotic mass of the crowd, Pyongyang IV seemingly lends itself to this type of photography; there’s no need to freeze the frame because it is already frozen. Upon first looking at Stockmarket and Dortmund, the viewer is confronted with the utter chaos in massive scale and proportion that simply overwhelms the senses. Diving deeper to the source, the viewer discovers the raw emotions from each and every individual that creates this collective thrill and hysteria. Pyongyang IV, although equally grand in scale and proportion, requires the reverse interpretation. Instead of looking for some sort of unifying feature or characteristic within a crowd of individuals, Pyongyang IV forces the viewer to find the small, individual imperfections within the mass of mechanical perfection and uniformity. Gursky’s Pyongyang series, and particularly Pyongyang IV, have this ability to mold our impressions and feelings towards the North Korean communist dictatorship that has for the most part been shrouded in a cloud of mystery. It is these powerful images that stand the test of time and remain relevant long after they are created.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale