A Question of Size
Andreas Gursky in Krefeld

Issue no6
Strategieën voor de lange termijn + Nieuwe Collectie

For Andreas Gursky’s exhibition 80-08 in the German city of Krefeld I felt a sort of nervous apprehension I hadn’t felt in a long time. It's a residue of the hero worship stemming from my early days as an art aficionado, when I saw his work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I was mightily impressed, and as first loves go, the feeling never went away entirely. Even now, reading an announcement of a 150 work retrospective by Gursky is able to set my mouth watering, even when his work seems to have been suffering from decadence and overexposure since my first acquaintance with it over a decade ago.

So. With nostalgic apprehension I embarked upon a trip to Krefeld, at first glance an unlikely venue for such a show. The scene of the crime: Haus Lange and Haus Esters, two adjoining villa’s in the posh suburbs of Krefeld designed by Modernist Moloch Ludwig Mies von der Rohe. it was in fact also the site of Gursky’s first museum exhibition and, as a Düsseldorf based (and taught) artist, the show is very much a home game for him.

My apprehension probably played its part, but I must say I was disappointed with what I found. More than 90% of the works - if compared to the enormous size they are usually blown up to - turned out to be about the size of a stamp. Only in the second of the two buildings I found about ten proper sized photographs, all recent works high on drama and low on meaning.

On the upside, the stamp collection opens the door to a comprehensive, chronologically ordered presentation focussing on Gursky’s development over the years. The exhibition starts with early work, where Gurksy focuses on subjects found close to home: the Ruhr river, the Düsseldorf airport and local swimming pools and residential areas. In the early nineties he steadily (and literally) starts expanding his horizons: focussing ever more on cultural landscapes such as ‘conquered’ nature, harbours, high-rise offices and hotels or factory floors. Germany is quickly traded in for more glamorous or ‘exotic’ places such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Hong Kong. In recent years the locations have become ever more extravagant: Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, North Korea; picturing entire archipelagos at once, his viewpoints going stellar as quickly as his career.

It’s as if the main reason for expanding on his themes is found in provenance: his popularity opening doors that would otherwise have remained closed. When he made his Desk Attendants series in 1982 he managed to visualize corporate power and spending standing in the lobby, in 2008 he’s the favourite pet of the (Arab) board of executives, granted permission to polish their egos by making pictures of their most decadent and extravagant projects: the Bahrain Formula One circuit, the Dubai World archipelago and Abu Dhabi’s Jumeirah Palm peninsula.

But due to the miniature size of most photos, the exuberance of his motifs sadly isn’t reflected in the exhibition. Again, provenance appears to be the main reason: the existence of 80-08 is closely bound to Gursky’s decision to make new inventory of his entire oeuvre. The result is like looking through a catalogue: it might just as well have been pages torn out of the comprehensive but joylessly designed catalogue accompanying the show. Needless to say it didn’t work. It brings to the fore a question that has often been asked of Gursky’s work: We’re the Americans right after all? Is Bigger really Better? For sure, it’s a question I dare not answer as fiercely righteous as I did a decade ago.

After Kunstmuseen Krefeld 80-08 will travel to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden and the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver, Canada

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 6 — 2020