Emerging from the pupilage of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf – alongside Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth – Gursky is the preeminent member of what is popularly known as the Dusseldorf School of Photography. Eschewing the black and white, documentary style of his teachers, in the 1990s Gursky made digital post-production an essential tool of his method, cultivating a deft ability to render impossible realities wholly tangible. It was this early period of experimentation that indiviualised Gursky, identifying him as a maverick composer of images: “my pictures from the 80s and 90s represented a new kind of photography, I would perhaps point to an ability to mix together the most varied fields of perception with a very idiosyncratic formulation […] that I was able to develop a new way of seeing” (Andreas Gursky cited in: Exh. Cat., Hayward Gallery, Andreas Gursky, London 2018, p. 116). This revolutionary process of remixing, assembling, and unifying ways of seeing into a holistic macro-composition channels the Romantic sublime of Caspar David Friedrich; placing the multitudes of people in a startling fragility and susceptibility to the scale of the cycles and systems around them. In photographs of stock markets, Italian beaches, hikers on a mountainside, and crowds at a music concert, the serial, documentary-form of the Becher’s images is united in one image – identifying the individual amongst individuals. This remarkable fusion of microcosms of theatre creates a monumental dramaturgy, and echoes the philosophy of Gerhard Richter – whose practice relies heavily on the photographic image – that considers photography a close analogy to reality, rather than its direct reproduction.
Orientating the aspect of the photograph from an aerial viewpoint, EM, Arena, Amsterdam I, manifests an otherworldly, celestial quality. Observing the outstretched vista of manicured grass and dancing players from this vertiginous frame of reference, Gursky implements a structural schema that is consistent across his oeuvre, subjecting warehouses, archipelagos, and sports events to the same compositional devices that uncouple the horizon line from perspective, becoming a formal element of an abstract picture. Abstracting the landscape of the stadium in this way, Gursky abbreviates the action of the football match, reducing it to a formal matter of points, lines, and gestures in a colour field akin to the works of Robert Motherwell or Kenneth Noland. The dizzying scale of the present work – combined with its flawless and uniform depth of focus – produces a dramatic, consuming field of vision, whose spatial flattening of the football pitch leaves little to differentiate near from far.EM, Arena, Amsterdam I, is a breathtaking work by one of the most important artists working today, and demonstrates the art historical hallmarks and technical virtuosity of Gursky’s most revered images that have come to redefine photography in the postmodern period.
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