Andreas Gursky - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips
  • Video

    Los Angeles to Scale: Andreas Gursky's Birdseye View

    At three meters long, the sheer scale of Gursky's 'Los Angeles' Cibachrome print is a celebration of the possibilities of the medium. Senior Specialist Nathalie Zaquin-Boulakia discusses one of the largest, most mesmerizing examples of Gursky's photographic works.

  • Provenance

    Sprueth Magers, Cologne
    Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in 1999)

  • Exhibited

    Edinburgh, The Dean Gallery, Andreas Gursky. Photographs 1994 - 1998, 27 March - 16 May 1999, p. 15 (another example exhibited and illustrated on the cover)
    Bonn, Kunstmuseum; Miami Museum of Contemporary Art, Great Illusions: Demand, Gursky, Ruscha, 17 June - 28 November 1999, no. 87, p. 85 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Art Museums, Busch-Reisinger Museum; Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Art Museums, Sert Gallery, Landmark Pictures: Ed Ruscha/Andreas Gursky, 8 January - 16 July 2000 (another example exhibited)
    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andreas Gursky, 4 March - 15 May 2001, no. 50, pp. 162 - 163 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Defying Gravity: Contemporary Art and Flight, 2 November 2003 - 7 March 2004, no. 36 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 11 May - 7 September 2008, pp. 54-55 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Kunstmuseen Krefeld; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Vancouver Art Gallery, Andreas Gursky: Werke - Works 80-08, 12 October 2008 - 20 September 2009, pp. 168-169 (another variant exhibited and illustrated)

  • Literature

    Peter Nisbet, ed., The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, and London, 2007, pp. 12 - 13 (another example illustrated)
    Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Cambridge, MA, 2008, p. 253 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Los Angeles, 1998 - 1999, is a rare and monumental masterpiece from the celebrated oeuvre of prolific photographer, Andreas Gursky, only the second of the edition of six ever to be seen at auction. Breath-taking in its impactful splendour, the sheer scale of the three metre long Cibachrome print is a paragon of photography, an exemplary celebration of the possibilities of the medium. Amongst one of the largest examples of Gursky’s photographic work, other examples from the edition are housed in the collection of the prestigious Harvard Art Museums and The Broad, Los Angeles. Other editions of large scale photographic work, for example Rhein II, have been purchased for some of the world’s major institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum. In the present work, Gursky chooses the iconic skyline of Los Angeles as his subject, transporting the viewer to a dark night overlooking the urban metropolis. Taking the photo from the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, Gursky’s viewpoint gazes south over the city sprawl, presenting the thin capillaries of roads and streets which feed into the beating heart of the enormous city, rather than looking up to the heavens. Showcasing the grandeur of the scene, Gursky unveils a moment in time, suspended in his perfected tension between flatness and perspective, his capturing of localised detail lending itself to the overarching essence of sublime abstract composition. Executed in the same year as his comprehensive Fotografien 1994 – 1998 travelling exhibition, the present work is a colossal spectacle, enveloping the viewer in the dramatic panorama.

    Strikingly evident in Los Angeles is Gursky’s accomplished mastery over the medium of photography, which the artist honed under the tutelage of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Dusseldorf school, the pair whose urban studies and industrial topography influenced Gursky’s own conceptual practice. To convey the sweeping vista of the Los Angeles skyline, Gursky used a traditional large format view camera with a wide lens, allowing for a long exposure to harness the beautiful haze of light emanating from the city below. As well as depicting the vast horizon, Gursky also captures the geological curvature of the earth, accentuating the sheer enormity of the image in front of us. On closer inspection, what is also evident is the rich tapestry of incredible detail which develops in front of the viewer on a massive scale. Carefully selecting his scene, Gursky’s composition is perfectly rendered to capture the harmony of the view, negating unnecessary details or embellishments. There are no superfluous elements in his Los Angeles portrait, rather Gursky’s composition achieves a perfect aesthetic equilibrium, traversing between abstraction and minute detail with the movement of the viewer’s gaze. Gursky constructs new realities in his photographs; he removes unwanted elements, sometimes altering colour schemes and digitally manipulating his images to best fit his vision. One of the first photographers to commandeer this technique, in one sense his photographs are designed, assuming a painterly, constructed quality. Paradigmatic of Gursky’s photographic technique, the present work draws the viewer closer, magnetic in its visual appeal.

    Gursky acts as a visual composer in the present work, pulling in deep black bands, strands of white and accents of warm orange to engulf the viewer in the lavish compositional harmony. Finer details reveal flecks of electric blue, scarlet red and emerald green which infer the story of the city’s growth. The lower jet black section, which spans the length of the photograph, is punctuated by a delicate speckling of electric light which eventually bunches to form the graduations of the terrain below. From left to right we see the districts of Los Feliz, Downtown and Hollywood, with pylons, industrial buildings and skyscrapers interspersed throughout the scene. Grouped areas of dazzling yellow light appear like constellations, the city an urban cosmos, a galaxy of brilliant stars which scatter across the inky background. Scanning upwards towards the sky, a thin zip of hot light runs along the horizon, while arteries of luminosity run vertically and diagonally, all converging at the central vanishing point, the nucleus of the image. Drawing upon the work of Barnett Newman, the horizon interjects the image, to be followed by a warm hue of fluorescence, which, to the left of the work, glows red like hot embers. The contrast between the sensual darkness and warm tonality is almost neon in appearance, the gradient of the glowing horizon swathing the sky until darkness is reached again. Here Gursky plays with the effects of light, as explored in the work of Dan Flavin and James Turrell to accomplish an air of opulence in his monumental photograph.

    Playing with spatial effects in the present work, Gursky’s Los Angeles skyline is beguiling in its distorted perspective and hyper-clarity. Captured from the hills of the valley, looking down into the basin which holds the city sprawl, the viewer is afforded a perspective normally impossible for the human eye. Unable to physically comprehend a panorama so vast and so clear, all at once, our sight is at once liberated, freed to absorb the scene in its absolute completeness. Highly aesthetic, the subtle amendment of perspective, evident in a number of Gursky's work such as Rhein II, emphasises the flatness of the picture plane, juxtaposed with the intense detail which reveals itself on closer inspection. Such as in Ed Ruscha’s long Hollywood landscapes, there is visual tension in Los Angeles between the flatness of the perspective and the positioning of the viewer. However, in the present work, the viewer is hoisted into a privileged position, enjoying a God’s-eye-view overlooking the City of Angels. Elevation, historically reserved for the wealthy or, mythically, for deities, forces the viewer to re-imagine their expectations of a typical skyline view of the city; Gursky emancipates our assumptions as Los Angeles is re-presented to us. The frenetic heartbeat of the city is captured in the stillness of the image, allowing the viewer a peaceful moment of reflection within the furore of the bright lights and traffic. By formalising the geographical structure and cropping any superfluous details, Gursky’s photograph levitates between hypnotic stillness and the vital rhythm of the buzzing city.

    As if viewing the city from an aeroplane, the mind cannot help but reduce the overwhelming birds-eye view into an abstract canvas of colour and form, like a patchwork of green fields or a knotted tangle of city streets. In the same way, Gursky’s innovative genius lies in his encapsulation of the essence of a landscape or a busy scene, accentuating its formal and geometric qualities to create a calculated spectacle. Rather than omitting the intense ultra-detail, Gursky simply visually detracts from it through the sheer enormity of his works which render the subject quasi-abstract. As Gursky states, ‘You never notice arbitrary details in my work. On a formal level, the countless interrelated micro and macro structures are woven together, determined by an organisational principle’ (Andreas Gursky, quoted in Andreas Gursky: Photographs 1994-1998, exh, cat., The Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, 1999, p. 5). As championed by the American Minimalists, such as Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, perspective and form are paired back, while detail is scaled down, achieved, in the present work, through sheer scale. Producing pictures of both abundance and emptiness, Gursky’s interest in abstract imagery resonates with the seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose monochromatic photographs focus on nature’s geometric quality through the visual marriage of air and sea. As in Mark Rothko’s evocative canvasses, the definition of the horizon, the central band of radiated colour and textural planes in Los Angeles is emotive; the darkness of the city is both stimulating and frightening, while the fiery oranges of the city are both invigorating and intense. Intriguing and seemingly limitless, in Los Angeles the viewer comes face to face with the boundless power and temporal expanse of our earthly surroundings.

    Continuing the dialogue of the German Romantics, Gursky explores the relationship between humans and our landscape, whether man made or natural, in his photographic work. In Los Angeles, the seemingly tiny lights made by human activity appear out of proportion to the majesty of the dark atmosphere, the horizon above enhanced by the omnipresent perspective of the spectator. Humanity appears dwarfed by nature, the curvature of the earth reminding us of our inconsequential existence. Like Caspar David Friedrich’s protagonists, the viewers of Gursky’s Los Angeles stand before the work, confronting the enormity of nature, and are forced to question their place within it. Often adopting the scale and composition of historical landscape paintings, Gursky’s work provides a forum for contemplative reflection, where we can look out onto the progress of human development. Neither critiquing the human footprint nor celebrating our technological advances, the present work provides a realm for considered meditation where the scale of the earth in space assumes centre stage.

    Since the 1990s, Gursky has concentrated on photographing sites of commerce, industry and tourism, creating work which draws attention to today’s burgeoning high-tech industry and global markets. In the present work, the choice of subject matter, namely Los Angeles, is poignant. A centre of commerce, Los Angeles is the global epicentre of the fashion and entertainment industry. A place where affluence and prosperity is often excessively displayed despite the economic troubles faced by some of its poorest inhabitants, the highly aesthetic nature of the city, with its Hollywood signs, iconic boulevards and emphasis on fame, is abstracted and reduced to its very physical essence. Redefining an iconic view of Los Angeles, the present work is a paradigm of modern photography, a quintessential work from Gursky’s accomplished photographic practice. Getting lost in the starry bright lights of the cityscape, the viewer is prompted to question humanity’s place within the vast world we inhabit.


Los Angeles

signed, titled, numbered and dated 'A Gursky "Los Angeles" 4/6 '98' on the reverse
Cibachrome print face-mounted on Plexiglas, in artist's frame
image 158.3 x 316.5 cm (62 3/8 x 124 5/8 in.)
overall 206.5 x 361.7 cm (81 1/4 x 142 3/8 in.)

Executed in 1998 - 1999, this work is number 4 from an edition of 6.

£1,400,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £1,689,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017