Andreas Gursky's Singapore Börse of 1997 is exemplary of perhaps the most celebrated cycle of his oeuvre: the sensational depictions of stock exchanges that have spanned two decades of his remarkable output. As Kuntmuseum Basel curator Dr. Nina Zimmer has declared, “Few artists have managed to distil the specific characteristics of a certain culture, the mindset of a generation, or the zeitgeist of an era into a single work. Just as a handful of iconic paintings have shaped our view of the Renaissance, so too has Andreas Gursky captured the essence of the economic and social situation of the late twentieth century.” (Exhibition Catalogue, Kunstmuseum Basel, Andreas Gursky, 2007-08, p. 69) Among Gursky’s monumental portraits of this era, the stock exchanges or Börse represent one of the greatest metaphors for the socio-economic topography of our time; indeed, in many ways they are an extreme distillation of contemporary human behaviour. As Peter Galassi has observed, the subject of the stock exchange “is not the trading floor glimpsed at a given moment through the eyes of a unique observer, but the identity of the whole operation, including all of its unseen machinations – not so much a particular place… as the stock market in general, as a global institution, or, further as not merely an economic institution but a model of contemporary behaviour.” (Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Andreas Gursky, 2001, pp. 29-30).
Not only is the present work a summation of all these themes, but also here Gursky creates an aesthetically sublime image, presenting a huge quantity of pictorial data on a monumental scale almost exclusively composed in primary colours red, yellow and blue with black and white. The vertiginous perspective and disorganized chaos of the traders’ flurried activities create an immersing effect almost akin to a great drip painting by Jackson Pollock, accentuated by Gursky’s purposefully slow shutter speed mapping blurred contours and smudged colour. At the same time, various natural patterns emerge within the disruption, such as the mass inclination of heads towards the ticker screens and the congregation of groups wearing the same coloured jackets, which lends order to the chaos in terms more reminiscent of Mondrian, Richter’s paintings of compartmentalised colours, or even Hirst’s monumental spot paintings.
Andreas Gursky took his first photograph of a stock exchange at the same time as he was making commercial advertising photographs of big industry factories such as for Siemens and Mercedes Benz. However, as Martin Hentschel has explicated “in some ways the movements of the stock exchange can be seen as the antithesis of the processes in the large corporations”, for while the factory workers act collectively in regimented industrial efficiency, the traders competitively vie with each other to secure the best deal to attain the capitalist fulfilment of individual economic triumph (Exhibition Catalogue, Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Andreas Gursky Works 80-08, 2008, p. 27). This distinction is furthered by Zimmer’s critique of Gursky’s stock exchange corpus: “the crowds of people in his photographs of the stock exchange are all involved in the uninhibited accumulation of capital… All of them are typical of a form of human gathering that has emerged along with the turbo-capitalism of the late twentieth century.” (Op. cit., pp. 83-85) Ultimately Gursky’s lens directs the scrutiny of our gaze on a crowd of individuals, reduced to anonymous beings. The spectator is invested with the perspective almost of a deity, everywhere and nowhere at once and, as Galassi describes “granting us a sense of overarching possession while excluding us from direct participation in the toylike realm.” (New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Andreas Gursky, p. 25) Simultaneously asserting a profound conceptual rigour, affording manifold subjective responses, and comprising an irresistible pictorial magnificence, Singapore Börse is a stunning and important example of Gursky’s historic career.