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  • Andreas Gursky challenges the notion of photography as a truthful representation by offering alternative readings of images through digital manipulation. His resulting photographic compositions are epic in scale and replete with detail. Often taken from an elevated position, Gursky’s photographs adopt the perspective of a distanced observer in presenting environments on a grand scale. Even so, Gursky’s works do not lose sight of the micro, capturing the minutia within the expanse.

     

    Arirang Festival from Gursky’s Perspective

     

    In 2007, Gursky travelled to Pyongyang, North Korea to document Arirang, an annual festival honoring the nation’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, for one of his most iconic series. In Pyongyang II, the only diptych from the series of five works, Gursky recreates the engaging fascination and awe that one feels as a spectator of this festival. The celebration is held in May Day stadium, drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers and participants, and is one of the most elaborate human performances in the world. Ultimately a multi-media performance that recounts the history of North Korea through acrobatic dancers and a shifting backdrop of images, Arirang is a panorama of carefully choreographed collective movement and action. From his position high above the performance, Gursky captures the spectacle in full.

    "I never claim the picture is a depiction of reality. It’s always a combination of invention and reality, an interpretation of reality. The impressions in your head get mixed up after one and a half hours of Arirang. A picture is not good because its subject is good, but because something has been made discernible, something that gives the picture direction. But I never give up the link to the documentary aspect of it."
    —Andreas Gursky

    In Pyongyang II, Gursky places two images of Arirang side by side, almost merging them into one. The two-dimensional quality of the diptych lends itself to Gursky’s particular mode of pulled-back photographic abstraction— achieved through both a collapsing of depth and an abundance of detail. From there, the scene transforms into a chromatic arrangement of geometry, as broad horizontal stripes of color define the composition.

     

    The stadium’s background images form the top part of each diptych. During the performance, these backdrops cycle through images of ancient Korean villages, a wagon of revolutionaries, a gun, tractors, and a dove of peace— digestible symbols of history. The mosaic-like quality of these images comes about from the mode of their creation: they are large colorful flip cards held up by schoolchildren. In Pyongyang II, Gursky has chosen to juxtapose an arrangement of doves with a pistol. These top planes hover above an equally constructed demonstration of abstracted military might. At the bottom of each diptych, the North Korean army becomes a geometric composition, radiating outward in concentric diamonds.

     

    The Process

     

    Using two large-format Linhof cameras placed beside each other and setting the exposure time at one-eighth of a second, Gursky makes technical adjustments to account for the resolution and depth of field in his photographs. He captures several exposures, deriving a single final image from an accumulation of raw material. A process of extensive digital editing and lab work follows as Gursky develops his images through montage. Moments are combined and cleaned-up in this condensation of documentary footage as he subjects them to a manipulation that, for Gursky, enhances their authenticity.

     

    • Provenance

      Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
      The Donald Marron Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Sprueth Magers, Andreas Gursky, March 22–May 12, 2007 (another example exhibited)
      Munich, Haus der Kunst; Istanbul Museum of Modern Art; Sharjah Art Museum; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria; Moscow, Ekaterina Foundation, Andreas Gursky, May 30, 2007–January 27, 2008, pp. 132–133 (another example exhibited and illustrated on the front and back covers)
      Kiev, Pinchuk Art Centre, Rhine on the Dnipro: Julia Stoschek Collection/ Andreas Gursky, September 28-December 14, 2008, n.p. (another example exhibited)
      Kunstmuseum Basel, Andreas Gursky, October, 20, 2007–February 24, 2008, pp. 94–95 (another example exhibited and illustrated)

    • Literature

      Jan Schmidt-Garre, One-Half Revolution and Everything Turns Red: Andreas Gursky in North Korea, 032c, no. 13, June 3, 2007, pp. 107, 109 (another example illustrated)
      Andreas Gursky Architecture, exh. cat., Institut Mathidenhöhe Darmstadt, Darmstadt, 2008, p. 70 (another example illustrated)
      Flinn Blythe “Andreas Gursky: the German photographer capturing the industrial scale of our age,” Hero, May 27, 2020, online (another example illustrated)
      “Andreas Gursky’s sensational photos of North Korea’s mass games,” Public Delivery, January 27, 2021, online (another example illustrated)

Ο ◆398

Pyongyang II

chromogenic print, in artist's frame, diptych
each 81 1/2 x 101 3/4 in. (207 x 258.4 cm)
Executed in 2007, this work is number 2 from an edition of 6.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $339,000

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York

1 212 940 1250
[email protected]

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021