Andreas Gursky - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Andreas Gursky, 'Klitschko', Lot 26

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2005)
    Christie's, London, 6 February 2008, lot 11
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Andreas Gursky, 4 December 1999 - 15 January 2000 (another example exhibited)
    Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, 12th Biennale of Sydney, 26 May - 30 July 2000, p. 211 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 55)
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Andreas Gursky, 4 March 2001 - 1 June 2003, pl. 46, p. 185 (another example exhibited and illustrated, pp. 152-153)
    Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Haus Lange und Haus Esters; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Vancouver Art Gallery, Andreas Gursky Werke 80-08, 12 October 2008 - 20 September 2009, p. 253 (another variant exhibited and illustrated, p. 170)

  • Literature

    Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2002, pp. 33-34 (another example illustrated, pp. 42-43)
    Thomas Weski, Andreas Gursky, Cologne, 2007, p. 84 (illustrated, p. 85)
    Andreas Gursky Architecture, exh. cat., Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe, 2008, no. 6, p. 9 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Named after the notorious Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko, Andreas Gursky’s monumental eponymous work, executed in 1999, captures the moment after the athlete defeated Axel Schulz in an intense match that earned him the 1999 Heavyweight crown. Taken from Gursky’s characteristically elevated vantage point, the crowded sports arena surrounding Klitschko is transformed into a spectacle of colour and drama. Expansive in both its subject and physical size, the photographic composition registers the euphoria of the victorious aftermath whilst retaining a quiet, detached distance from the action. For the artist, the focus of his work ‘is not the decisive moment but the decisive standpoint that is the measure of all artistic things’ (Andreas Gursky, quoted in Andreas Gursky: Architecture, exh. cat., Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe, 2008, p. 9).

    Gursky began to explore the possibilities offered by digital picture processing in 1992 to emphasise the formal elements of his work. In the present work, Gursky has enhanced the venue’s bright spotlights and the endless rows of blue seating to transform the enormous space into a rich, jewel-like vision in crystalline detail. By manipulating the depth of focus, the ultramarine ring, lighting rigs, scoreboards and speakers oscillate between one another to compete for the viewer’s gaze. In Gursky’s own words, ‘Figuratively speaking, what I create is a world without hierarchy, in which all the pictorial elements are as important as each other. The experience of space dissolves in favour of a dissected plane that is gradually scanned and read in its linear structure’ (Andreas Gursky, quoted in The Creators Project, ‘Andreas Gursky and Richie Hawtin Stage a Photo-Techno Mashup’, Vice, 10 November 2016, online). In this way, Gursky challenges the spectacle associated with the intense drama of boxing and instead uses digital manipulation to explore the relationship between people and the epic spaces of contemporary capitalism.

    As demonstrated in the present work, in the 1990s Gursky’s photographs ‘became increasingly formal and abstract. A visual structure appears to dominate the real events shown in my pictures. I subjugate the real situation to my artistic concept of the picture’ (Andreas Gursky, quoted in Andreas Gursky: Photographs from 1984 to the Present, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 14). Gursky’s handling of space and spectacle recalls Francis Bacon’s similar investigation into the body, pictorial form and structure. The abstracted central figure in Bacon’s 1976 Figure in Movement betrays the inspiration he found from 1950s boxing magazines, onto which he would sometimes sketch and paint. Captured in a state of violent yet gracefully choreographed contortion, Bacon’s ‘figure’ appears as two bodies in a violent brawl on a raised platform. Here, Gursky’s digitally enhanced spotlights take shape in the form of a thin bright white cubic structure enclosing the figure, which could equally signify a boxing ring containing its athletes. In this context, Gursky’s use of compositional devices such as light, colour, enhancement and structure to depict the abstract formalism of the masses places his work in the liminal space between photography and painting, immediate reality and carefully constructed imaginary.

    In a self-reflexive play typical of Gursky’s photographs, Klitschko questions the role that images play in our media fuelled consumer society, and how they frame our seeing and understanding. Taught under the pioneering tutelage of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Gursky expanded their definition of documentary photography as an account of the visible; a straight representation of reality. In the present work, Gursky has digitally inserted the imagery reproduced on the flat screens above the ring, highlighting the mechanical reproduction of images and the way in which media filters our perception. Rather than focusing on the intensity of the Heavyweight match in close-up action, Gursky draws attention to the constant mediation we experience in the spaces of global capitalism, and in turn cast doubts on our preconceived ideas about how photographs might represent reality.

    Gursky’s commitment and innovative approach to digital processing is exemplified in his work Madonna I, executed two years after Klitschko. Taken at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on 13 September 2001, the photograph depicts Madonna’s performance which had been initially cancelled due to the 11 September terrorist attacks that shook the United States and world. In one of his most complex compositions, Gursky constructs the photograph with newly developed digital collage techniques, knitting together different frames to show the whole concert in a single iconic image. Both images demonstrate that Gursky’s goal is to not overly fictionalise his images but create hyperreal scenes to overcome visual, spatial and technical limitations.

    Drawing on the sublime quality of the everyday, the present work’s expansive picture plane and ‘all-over’ imagery unifies the mass of people in beautifully saturated colour to impose a sense of order and structure. This effect perfectly echoes Gursky’s resounding statement: ‘When you reach a certain height, you can show the spaciousness of the subject, but at the same time the character of the picture becomes much more technical and loses its poetry. If you fly in too close, then the picture becomes narrative and the generality that I’m seeking loses its clarity and sharpness’ (Andreas Gursky, quoted in Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2017, p. 118). It is the perfect balancing of the notions of the individual and collective that makes Klitschko particularly compelling. Though the title of the work places its focus on the triumphant boxer, it is the crowd of people surrounding the game that becomes Gursky’s main subject, dissolving the individual into the multitude. Freed from the conventional expectations of photography, Gursky allows his viewers to travel back in time to this historical sporting moment of and immerse themselves in a wholly new experience.

    Klitschko is a testament to Gursky’s reputation as one of the leading photographers of today. The huge success of his critically acclaimed retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 2018 attests to his enduring appeal. In a media fuelled society brimming with images, Gursky’s digital mediations on the spectacles of contemporary culture have never been more relevant.



c-print face-mounted to Plexiglas, in artist's frame
206.4 x 261.9 cm (81 1/4 x 103 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1999, this work is number 4 from an edition of 6.

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡♠

Sold for £399,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019