Bruno Reynell reviews Andreas Gursky’s retrospective at the Hayward Gallery
After two years of refurbishment, the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre has recently reopened its doors, and there are surely few artists whose works are better placed to take advantage of its new big and bright spaces than Andreas Gursky. His images seem a shadow of themselves when viewed in a book or on a computer screen – they demand grand dimensions, and that is exactly what the Hayward Gallery affords them.
The exhibition starts with photographs taken during the 1980s in and around Düsseldorf, while he was studying at the city’s art academy. They explore the relationship between humans and their surrounding landscape, contrasting the urban and the rural. An eerie sense pervades these images, as though humans and their creations have encroached on natural spaces, where they subsequently appear out of place.
The exhibition continues chronologically, and Gursky’s fascination with human nature and human behaviour are manifested through his bold depictions of the relentless force of 21st-century modernity, for which he is perhaps best known. Highlights include his photographs of trading floors such as Tokyo, Stock Exchange (1989). Countless Japanese traders, all dressed homogeneously in soulless black and white or drab grey, are engaged in frenzied activity, a pictorial representation of a dance to the tune of capitalism and commerce.
Another important feature of Gursky’s work is his constant willingness to experiment with his images in post-production. This includes, for example, the stitching together of several photographs to form one epic panorama, such as in the sobering Paris, Montparnasse (1993), or the digital elimination of distractions to create the stunning visual clarity of images like Rhine II (1999, remastered 2015). As Gursky has explained, “Reality can only be shown by constructing it.”
If you have the opportunity to do so, going to the exhibition at a non-peak time is highly recommended. I inadvertently ended up doing so, and being able to look at a work from a distance, then freely walk up to it to examine the detail, before ambling back to appreciate it from afar once again definitely enhances the experience (however much a large gallery packed with visitors could be something straight out of a Gursky image…). Altered perspective is, after all, perhaps the key feature at work here; Gursky reflects the world back upon us, usually in a revelatory manner. As the much-lauded German’s first major UK retrospective, this is not a show to be missed.
Andreas Gursky runs at the Hayward Gallery until 22nd April 2018.
Featured image credit: Montparnasse, Andreas Gursky