There was a moment in the 2001 Andreas Gursky MoMA Retrospective when the Unseen Eye first encountered the artist’s “May Day II, 1998″, a rave-scape. The Eye was stopped in his tracks. The work was not so perfect technically, pixellating like mad in the corners with light bouncing off of the Plexiglass in an unyielding fashion, but it was gasp inducing. Astonishing. The Eye hesitated looked, then looked more and more, longer and wider, closer then further away, backing up, searching the image, trying to come to grips with it.
The impact of the piece was such that the Eye thought this must be what people – who liked it – felt when they heard Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” debut or when they first stumbled upon one of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. No surprise when turning the corner, the Eye ran into his “Untitled VI (1991), Gursky’s literal capture of Pollock.
Even with that history, the Eye was not prepared for the impact of “Ocean VI” (2010), an enormous blue vortex at the center of the artist’s recent exhibition “Not Abstract II”, now closed at Gagosian’s 21st Street space. Beam me up.
Pow. Wow. The Eye was one happy flaneur.
There are 3 “Untitled XVIII, XX, XIX”, all 2015 tulip fields, that behave like Agnes Martin on acid and steroids. Masterful. Who knows what anything really is or where it comes from; the magic is that Mr. Gursky manages to cobble these dazzling objects together with aerial photography, Photoshop, whatever, it’s irrelevant.
Enjoy being awestruck.
There is a Gursky quote “My photographs are ‘not abstract’. Ultimately they are always identifiable. Photography in general simply cannot disengage from the object”, and it seems just right. His recent “Les Meés” (2016), solar panels pieced into easy, rolling hills of rigid black and white rectangles, a carpet of dominoes, a truly romantic contemporary landscape, with the black and white offset by the green grass and the lightly colored sky.
His gold interior “Qatar” (2012) is luxe, gauche and sublime.
There are new variations on his classic “99 Cent Store” with “Mediamarkt” (2016) and “Amazon” (2016) that remind the visitor of how masterful Mr. Gursky is with these works.
Gursky has collaborated with a sound artist Richie Hawtin here in an appropriate if extraneous way. You search for the source of sounds as if these giant works had heartbeats or balky plumbing.
The show is completely memorable. There is a political piece “In Rueckblick/Review” (2015) with four German Chancellors seen from behind looking at the red field of Barnet Newman’s “Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51) and two 2014 superheroes in Eden works “SH I”, “SH IV” that are romantic, heroic and amusing. There are also a few small completely inscrutable, seemingly throwaway inkjet (!) works (inscrutability at 30,000 euros!).
Gursky has taken Sergei Diaghilev’s famous challenge to Jean Cocteau “Étonne-moi” (“Astonish Me!”) and done it.
Prices ranged upwards to 600,000 euros. It’s not so much question of where to find the money, but once you’ve got it, where to hang the work.
W.M Hunt is a photography collector, curator and consultant who lives and works in New York. He is a professor at School of Visual Arts and is on the Board of Directors of the W. Eugene Memorial Smith Found. His book entitled “The Unseen Eye” (published by Aperture) and focusing on his personal collection is one of the most intriguing compilations of photographs.
Andreas Gursky, Not Abstract II
Exhibition closed on December 23, 2016
522 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011
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