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  • Video

    Andreas Gursky 'Chicago, Mercantile Exchange', 1997

    “Gurksy’s work engages you with monumental scale. It allows viewers to insert themselves into the scene he has choreographed in front of you but also to take a position as a viewer from above, looking own on the scene with a god-like perspective on the work. He captures the human-ness, but still retains a very objective composition." Phillips' Deputy Chairman of Europe & Asia Matt Carey-Williams presents Andreas Gursky 'Chicago, Mercantile Exchange', 1997 to be offered in our Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 29 June in London.

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, USA
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

  • Literature

    Andreas Gursky: Photographs from 1984 to the Present, exh. cat., Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum, 1998, p. 55 (another example illustrated)
    Andreas Gursky 1998-99, exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 1999, cover and no. 7 (another example illustrated)
    Andreas Gursky: Werk -Works 80-08, exh. cat., Krefeld Kunstmuseum, Krefeld, 2009, p. 155 (another example illustrated)
    N. Degen, The Market (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art), London: MIT Press, 2014

  • Catalogue Essay

    Andreas Gursky’s photography marries dispassion and fixation. In his large-scale photographs of the contemporary landscape - tower blocks, shipyards, and roadways - the artist assumes distance from his subjects even as he remains alert to their sublimity. Drawing his influence from the notional objectivity of earlier photographic movements – his former teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher in Germany, and the ‘New Topographics’ in America – he chronicles modernity as he attends to its beauty. In doing so, he has been quick to embrace the potentials of digital technology; a favoured technique is to merge multiple photographs into one finished image.

    The artist’s enduring interest is in assemblages: in the relation between part and whole. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this concern has led him to photograph crowds. Often his subject is the public event – the dynamism and communality of a concert or a boxing match. At other times, he finds people gathered in workplaces; in Siemens, Karlsruhe, his subjects are seated at their desks, their attention directed to the work in front of them. The photograph’s palette is a muted interplay of orange and white. Accompanied by a deep red and a smattering of blue, these colours return in Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The tones however are rather more vivid, and the scene depicted considerably more riotous.

    Reflecting on the dynamics of observation, Gursky relates ‘even if it’s a really big picture, if you want to get the details, you have to approach the picture and you read the picture line by line.’ (Andreas Gursky in Nancy Tousely, ‘Andreas Gursky: Interview With Insight,' Canadian Art, 9 July 2009). Like much of his work, Chicago Mercantile Exchange is prodigiously scaled. The vast image is awash with orange and red: a swarming hive of activity. As the viewer spends longer with the piece, the initial noise dies down enough to pick out individual details. To do so is to encounter a broad spectrum of human emotion. There are gestures of ecstasy - raised arms and triumphantly clenched fists – alongside those of disappointment - heads hung in postures of despondency. Then there are those more ambivalent and inscrutable figures; expectant eyes fixed on some object beyond the frame.

    If attention is drawn to any point in particular, it is to the man standing front and centre. He exists within a space of entrancing half-symmetry. Flanked on either side by two similarly clad men, and above by a riot of limbs, he is a point of stillness amid the frenzy of the scene. The composition is careful and indebted to tradition; as Holger Liebs observes, ‘Gursky’s photographs possess an Old Masterly greatness.’ (Holger Liebs, ‘Andreas Gursky,' Frieze, Issue 107, May 2007). Imbued with a strange calm and encircled by space, he is slightly separate from the rest of the crowd. Yet in spite of his centrality, he never comes to dominate the picture; such is the levelling effect of Gursky’s practice that no single figure is afforded absolute primacy.

    Tracing back to 1990, Gursky’s interest in the stock exchange as a place of human activity is long standing. Dating from that year, Tokyo Stock Exchange depicts a scene comparable to the present lot; a central desk forms the focal point around which is organised the theatre of human emotion. In other work, the artist casts his gaze over similar institutions in Kuwait and Hong Kong. In each instance, he strikes a careful balance between studied composition and the expressive force of the human gesture. Much like these cities, Chicago has recurred as a location. Chicago Board of Trade I dates from the same year as the present lot, but is tonally distinct. It envisages a rather darker scene: under the glow of artificial light is a thronging crowd. Pressed against each other, surrounded by discarded paper, particularities are hard to distinguish. There is greater anonymity here than elsewhere. Forms become obscured as one body blends into the next. In the later works Chicago Board of Trade II and III, Gursky delves further into depersonalisation. Human activity becomes communal; crowds become entities in themselves, and assume their own distinct energy.

    The stock exchange plays host to scenes of high drama; from the creation of vast fortune to the devastating cataclysms of 1929 and 1987, the trading floor is a place in which the extremes of emotion are traversed. As such, it is a ready subject for Gursky’s exploratory work; seeking out human experience with ravening persistence. Whilst the images themselves evoke awe and wonderment – daunting in scale as in both detail and composition – the photographer remains oddly silent. The photographs do not adopt a particular attitude towards their subject matter. Once the image has been arranged, Gursky declines to pass any judgement. Chicago Mercantile Expression, as other of his work, is ultimately an affirmation of distress as it is of rapture.

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTION

17

Chicago, Mercantile Exchange

1997
chromogenic print, in artist's frame
sheet 181.6 x 244.5 cm (71 1/2 x 96 1/4 in.)
frame 185.4 x 248.3 cm (73 x 97 3/4 in.)

Signed, titled, numbered and dated 'Chicago, Mercantile Exchange '97 6/6 A. Gursky' on the reverse. This work is number 6 from an edition of 6.

Estimate
£650,000 - 850,000 ‡ ♠

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 29 June 2015 7pm