Executed in 2003, this work is number 2 from an edition of 6.
Executed in 2004, Arena III constitutes a commanding evocation of Andreas Gursky's manifestly contemporary and cinematic pictorial scaffold. Renowned for lyrically distilling and transmuting the aesthetic zeitgeist of our globalised epoch, Gursky's monumental photographic eye astutely focuses on the architectural structures and cultural phenomena indexical of contemporary society. Where enveloping and omniscient perspectives of factories, stock exchanges, shopping malls, tower blocks and industrial landscapes inform a forcefully rigorous and rationalized geometry, testament to a formative training under Bernd and Hiller Becher at the Düsseldorf Academy in the 1980s, Gursky's lens here focuses on the turfing of a football stadium. Indeed, Arena III is a spectacular exhibition of the sublime perspective and economy of means that epitomizes the artist's trademark picturing of our globalised turbo-capitalist age. Constituting the third in a series of works initiated in 2000 centred on differing views of a football arena in Amsterdam, the present work represents the most abstract and structurally commanding of the cycle. While extant editions of Arena III are prestigiously housed in the Smithsonian, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Kunstmuseum Basel, this very work was prominently reproduced by FIFA as a poster to promote the 2006 World Cup, held in Germany. Gursky's vertiginous portrayal of a football pitch half laid down with immaculately striped emerald turf is counter balanced by the expanse of subtly variegated monochrome ground waiting to be cloaked by the verdant lawn. Betraying a rhythmical choreography of linear forms interspersed with miniscule human figures at work, Arena III evokes an imperious visual orchestration and measured minimalist cadence attained via an indeterminate cross-contamination of the real with the artificial.
An impossible image, not only for the naked eye but also for the single lens, Arena III 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 and perspectives, digitally processed, compressed and cogently reorganised. Herein, Gursky subtly distorts reality and exploits the concept of 'truth' associated with photography. As outlined by Marie Louise Syring; "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" (Marie Luise Syring, 'Where is Untitled? On Locations and the Lack of Them in Gursky's Photography' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, Andreas Gursky - Photographs from 1984 to the Present, 1998, p. 6). Combined with the immense physical size and towering format of Gursky's image, Arena III engenders a supra-real evocation of a landscape that rhythmically wavers between cognition and incomprehension. Our conception of horizon is utterly thwarted: the viewer's field of vision is entirely saturated by an infinite wall of striated green turf and the subtly undulating monochrome of a prepared ground that seems to stretch infinitely into the distance. Rather than conferring a singular awesome vantage point of a natural landscape our vision is forever navigating the artificial planes of a football pitch under construction. Gursky's manipulation here employs the devices of minimalist painting to convert a contemporary artificially constructed landscape into a formalist image. Proffering an abstract essay of nuanced and undulating tonality that evokes the legacy of twentieth-century abstract painting and its sublime pretentions, it is apt to consider Gursky's stark aesthetic and minimal colour palette as a kind of post-modern sublime landscape anchored to the rigid geometry symptomatic of consumerist society.
In his photograph Gursky fundamentally alienates and unseats our perception and recognition of the visual syntax of the arena and its principle sport: football. The football pitch is here presented semi-evacuated, in the state of half completion; perspective is flattened and formally abstracted into an excess of towering green and sand-coloured monochrome. Representing an industry worth billions, the football match embodies the Western capitalist spectacle par excellence. Stringently anchored to Gurksy's metaphysical artistic conceit, Arena III emblematises the artist's quest to compress the values of civilised existence into a single "image that could stand for all images" (the artist cited in: Ralf Beil, 'Just what is it that makes Gursky's photos so different, so appealing?', Exhibition Catalogue, Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, p. 9). Bearing the same rigid linearity and economy of forms consistent with the uniform geometric pattern of Gursky's output, Arena III represents a piece in the puzzle of our globalised contemporary landscape.
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