Nick Hackworth

Andreas Gursky, Inside the White Cube

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Despite the fact that his career only got going in the mid-Eighties, that he is not yet 50 and that he produces very few pictures each year, German photographer Andreas Gursky has for some time been regarded as one of the grand masters of contemporary art. His status was confirmed by a recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the ultimate seal of approval, which has translated into headline-grabbing auction prices. One photograph, a 15ft print of a display cabinet of training shoes, sold for £432,750 last year, making it the world’s most expensive contemporary photograph.

Happily, behind the hype lies work that is often both beautiful and original. All of it is motivated by the desire to capture the essence of the contemporary world in visual form. This he achieves, in his best work, by taking detailed shots of complex subjects, such as crowds, from a great distance, while focusing on colour and composition, and presenting the final images in monumental size, as if they were history paintings of old. In them, humans lose their individuality and greater patterns are revealed.

At Inside the White Cube, the small project space that opened above the main Hoxton Square gallery at the end of last year, Gurksy shows three images. Greeley, the sole new work, is the first that he has taken from a helicopter. It depicts an alien landscape filled with a vast grid of cattle pens. Innumerable cows go about their business, those in the distance becoming mere dots of colour. The image is large and one can delve into it, absorbing the detail, but though it is arresting, it is oddly raw and empty in comparison with Gursky’s other work. His diptych is more accomplished. Shot in an American 99-cent store, it shows aisle upon aisle of densely packed and brightly coloured products that weigh down the spectator’s eye. The few humans present are lost in the almost abstract landscape of consumption, just as lost as the dumb cows, future objects of consumption, in their own strange landscape.

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