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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Andreas Gursky
B. 1955
BAHRAIN II
c-print mounted on plexiglass, in artist’s frame
307.2 by 212.9 cm. 121 by 83 7/8 in.
Executed in 2007, this work is number 2 from an edition of 6.
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Provenance

Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the previous owner in 2007

Exhibited

London, Sprüth Magers, Andreas Gursky, March - May 2007 (edition no. unknown)
Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Andreas Gursky, October 2007 - February 2008, p. 110, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Krefeld, Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Haus Lange und Haus Esters; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; and Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery, Andreas Gursky: Werke - Works 80-08, October 2008 - September 2009, p. 224, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown, smaller edition)
Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Manipulating Reality: How Images Redefine the World, September 2009 - January 2010, p. 93, no. 1, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andreas Gurksy, Vol. II, March - May 2010, n.p., illustrated (installation view of Andreas Gursky, Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, 2010); p. 27, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Photography Reinvented: The Collection of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, September 2016 - March 2017, p. 45, no. 14, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)

Catalogue Note

Andreas Gursky has pioneered a practice in which photography has come to rival the lofty ambitions of history painting. Subverting the medium’s claim to indexical truth – the mechanical evidence of documenting ‘that which has been’ – his pictures deliver powerfully seductive panoramas, hyperbolic yet formally restrained portrayals of our contemporary age from a truly global perspective. Together, these monumental pictures deliver an all-encompassing world-view designed to fulfil the artist’s famous taxonomical aim to amass an ‘encyclopaedia of life’. Bahrain II from 2007 narrates the very moment at which Gursky comes closest to accomplishing this objective. Harnessing radical developments in digital editing and utilising an international level of critical acclaim garnered during the preceding decade, Gursky’s 2000s practice evinces amplified technical and conceptual ambition. Moreover, from this important decade, 2007 is undoubtedly the standout year: this is the year in which Gursky produced some of the most ambitious pictures of his career to date, including Bahrain and the FI Pit Stops, James Bond Island, Dubai World I-III, and Pyongyang I-V. Bahrain II is the pendant photograph to Bahrain I, an example of which is held in the collection of the Tate, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and depicts the Bahrain International Circuit, a racing track that hosts the country’s Formula One Grand Prix. Taken aerially from a helicopter and then manipulated using digital software, Bahrain II provides an abstracted crop of three elements of the circuit, with the black asphalt snaking horizontally across the desert landscape forming a strong contrast against the soft creamy sand surrounding it.

Forming a piece in Gursky’s global puzzle, the present work collectively conforms to the artist’s utterly inimitable structural vision and ordering gaze. Bahrain II possesses the same signature balance between a disembodied ‘allover’ composition and rigid linearity; tropes often compared to the formal devices of Minimalism and Abstract Expressionist painting. The unmistakable Gurskian stage of planar horizontal strips of racing track are exploited as essential abstract devices further underlined by the picture’s cool and controlled colour palette. Exhibiting the extremity of Gursky's now signature master-trope of an elevated vantage point, a key photographic device gleaned from his formative mentors Bernd and Hiller Becher, Bahrain II’s God's-eye perspective evokes the intimation of a deific realm. This draws a parallel with Caspar David Friedrich whose sublime and vast landscapes are renowned for their devotional invocation of God via a mediating solitary human presence; our participatory empathy with the Rückenfigur, typically present within Friedrich's vast natural expanses, incites an overwhelming annihilation of self and impression of a transcendent higher power. However, in Gursky's photography, to quote Marie Luise Syring, "the tragic element is missing. Instead, the artist maintains an ironic distance" (Marie Luise Syring, 'Where is Untitled? On Locations and the Lack of Them in Gursky's Photography' in: Exh. Cat., Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Andreas Gursky - Photographs from 1984 to the Present, 1998, p. 7).

An impossible image, not only for the naked eye but also for the single lens, Bahrain II represents a fictional landscape composed of many photographic parts. Representing a rejection of singular perspective, the paragon discovery of Renaissance invention, Gursky disregards our natural stereoscopic vision to engender a harmonised photographic compression of multiple views, digitally processed and cogently reorganised. Herein, Gursky subtly distorts reality and exploits the concept of 'truth' associated with photography. As Syring adds, "by using digital technology, Gursky exposes the consumer world as a virtual spectacle and by radicalising the structure of the image using computers he underlines the theatricality of a situation" (Ibid., p. 6). Ultimately the possibility of a boundless natural Sublime is thwarted by Gurksy's ironical detachment and the restless nature of his composition. Rather than conferring a singular awesome vantage point, our vision is forever navigating the artificial planes of this image's construction. Here, sublimity is engendered, not via a sense of awe-inspired reverence of a transcendental higher-power, but through a tangible sense of the 'here-and-now' resonating from a visual suspension affected by the work of art itself.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London