May Day II

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2008

  • Exhibited

    Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Andreas Gursky - Photographs from 1984 to the Present, August 29 - October 18, 1998, p. 18 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 34)
    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection, June 4 - September 8, 2004, p. 165 (another example exhibited and illustrated, pp. 166, 222)
    West Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art, A Show of Hands: Photographs and Sculpture from the Buhl Collection, January 12 - March 25, 2008 (another example exhibited)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Pulsing with palpable energy, May Day II, 1998 is a key example of Andreas Gursky’s pioneering photographic oeuvre. Forming the artist’s iconic May Day series conceived between 1997 and 2006, the work portrays the teeming crowds of Germany’s oldest and most well-known electronic music festivals. The eponymous series not only attests to the artist’s passion for the musical genre, but is a prime example of his continued fascination with the collective structures that shape our behavior. Rendering an idiosyncratically aerial, highly-controlled vision of a cramped concert venue, the May Day series expands upon Gursky’s earlier photographic explorations of the same subject matter with Union Rave, 1995. Stretching over six feet wide, May Day II immerses the viewer in an otherworldly scene: a shaft of light punctuates a throng of people, the mass thrumming with the vibrations of the bass. Gursky presents his God’s Eye view in almost painterly chiaroscuro, the subtle play on contrast drawing the viewer’s eye to smaller vignettes and details hidden within the broader mass. Other examples of the series are housed in the Kunstmuseum NRW, Dusseldorf, the Kistefos Museet, Oslo and the Castello di Rivoli, Turin, and have been displayed at the Hayward Gallery’s recent Gurksy career retrospective.

    A former pupil of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gurksy’s practice has often been spoken of within the broader context of the seminal group of artists the Bechers' cultivated at the Kunstakademie, later known as the Dusseldorf School. Expanding on the Bechers’ documentarian impulse, Gursky’s investigations focused on the subjects of order, nature, and the human species, delving deep into the exponential capacities of the photographic object. Gursky’s subjects of choice were the pedestrian spaces in which we live our everyday lives: supermarkets, stock exchanges, stores, concert venues, and airports. With May Day II, Gursky effectively puts forward an impossible image; using digital manipulation techniques, he has merged multiple shots to skillfully generate a vast panorama encompassing multiple perspectives – enabling the viewer to encounter scenes ordinarily beyond reach. What ostensibly appear as chance encounters of place and time are in actuality highly curated scenes composed by the artist with a sensitivity to light and rhythm as though he were painting from his own mind’s eye. Executed on a panoramic scale, these scenes take on seeming importance that likens them to the grand tradition of history painting, while the resultant “all-over composition” simultaneously exudes the grandeur of Jackson Pollock’s paintings.

    Alongside his stock exchanges, May Day II takes its places within Gursky’s pantheon of imagery that explores humanity as a collective rather than a group of individuals. May Day II presents the uniquely contemporary global phenomenon of music festivals, which bring together people of various nationalities to experience a single moment or event collectively in a way that recalls spiritual pilgrimages. The artist was specifically drawn to large-scale music events for what he calls their “modern paradox”: while “mass entertainment favors individuality” in the present work, no one face from the crowd can be identified: individuals gain presence through their proximity to and association with other individuals, creating an amoeba-like mass. “Everybody dances alone,” Gursky declared, addressing the inherent paradox contained within collective experiences. “It is an individual experience, but also collective” (Andreas Gursky, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, “The Big Picture”, The New Yorker, January 22, 2001, online).

    While Gursky’s May Day series centers on the eponymous music festival, its title also alludes to the politically-charged German holiday equivalent of Labor Day that sees large crowds march the streets to champion workers’ rights. This double-meaning is heightened with the present work in its decontextualized depiction of the crowd of people. Gursky elides specificity in favor of a broader investigation into human subjectivity in the age of globalization. This undercurrent is reflected in Ralph Rugoff’s observation: “This photograph…conveys an eerie sense of hundreds of subjective moments and individual time zones co-existing simultaneously within the all-encompassing framework of the crowd” (Ralph Rugoff, “Andreas Gursky: Four Decades”, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2017, n.p.).

    May Day II invites us into a multi-sensory space that at once magnifies in intensity as it dissolves into the ephemerality of music, movement, light and space. Blurring the line between the real and the perceived, the individual and the collective, May Day II is as enticing as it is evocative. As Kunstmuseum Basel curator Dr. Nina Zimmer identifies: “few artists have managed to distil the specific characteristics of a certain culture, the mindset of a generation, or the zeitgeist of an era into a single work. Just as a handful of iconic paintings have shaped our view of the Renaissance, so too has Andreas Gursky captured the essence of the economic and social situation of the late twentieth century” (Nina Zimmer, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, 2007, p. 69).


May Day II

signed, titled, numbered and dated "Mayday II '98 4/6 A. Gursky" on the reverse
color coupler print face-mounted to Plexiglas, in artist's frame
73 1/4 x 88 7/8 in. (186 x 226 cm.)
Executed in 1998, this work is number 4 from an edition of 6.

$400,000 - 600,000 

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Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018