Andreas Gursky (April-June 2022, White Cube Bermondsey, London)
Review by Lucy-Ellen Bateman
Whilst many artists concern themselves with giving visibility specifically to that which is invisible or unnoticed, Gursky’s work concerns itself both with the visible and the invisible. Whilst giving materiality to the abstract – structures like capitalism, economic changes, and their broadly felt impact, Gursky’s work also presents importantly new ways of seeing the everyday. In his most recent exhibition at the White Cube Bermondsey, his photos concern diverse scenarios, from a park or fashion show, to ski resort or ship, to even the Hong Kong financial district. However, the primary theme is not difference, but an ‘essential commonality’. Gursky points to the ways in which these seemingly separate subjects, are all connected, both by experiences of contemporary life, like the pandemic, but equally by their common relations to the fast and changing impact of capitalism. Here, Gursky invites us to engage with daily life, but also globality, by sponsoring new viewing practices, or ways of seeing, the already visible. Initially, I try to approach exhibitions with my mind being a proverbial blank canvas. Refraining from immediately reading the accompanying literature, image descriptions, and sometimes even titles. This allows me to do a sort of double-take receptively, where I form two opinions, sometimes quite separate from one another, about each artwork. Some may call it irrational or misleading, since I regularly reach a conclusion or response, quite distanced from that intended by the artist. But for me, it gives me a kind of 2-4-1 experience and reminds me that art is not simply a vehicle for singular meaning or communication, but rather something much more uncertain and protean.
An image that really stood out to me was Eisläufer (Ice Skater), a large print depicting an icy park, busy with visitors, some with masks and others without. It’s funny that at first, I didn’t notice the masks, however once I did, the dynamic of the image changed. Initially, it felt alive and bustling, but on closer inspection this was simply a mirage created through Gursky’s trademark technique of using large format film cameras allowing him to combine multiple perspectives. This draws out the image’s corners to create an expansive rectangle, placing the viewer and viewed in an unusual and exposed perspective of infinite proportions with no vanishing points. Getting closer to the image I noticed the distance between groups of people, their visible concern with ascertaining their own space away from one another, sideways glances – constantly checking other’s proximity…this subtle avoidance of closeness. This was not simply an image of a park, but a depiction of the now warped sense of togetherness that has been brought about by the pandemic. We want to be both close and far, together and alone, isolated, and in-touch. We live in a world ever-more so plagued by contradiction. We may think everything is the same from a panoramic perspective, but the changes in ourselves, however small, are present and noticeable upon closer inspection. After reading the accompanying writings, a new dimension was unveiled to me, reminding me both of the ways in which we’ve found new beauty in the everyday, new wonder in the local, and this different relationship with closeness, but equally the significance of this isolation-interaction dichotomy which has distinctive relationships to capitalism. This dichotomy lays both within and outside of the artworks, with Gursky aiming to adopt a critical lens but equally with his photographs being among the most expensive ever sold and positioned in some of the wealthiest galleries around the world.
Ultimately the duality of these importantly distinct themes complemented my method of interpretation. One may disagree with this process, arguing that good art should facilitate singular readings, should confidently make its point, clear and simple. I, however, see no need for this. Why restrict art to a singular dimension of interpretation, why hold it to these expecting standards, why not recognise the unique, situated relationship that we all have with knowledge, ourselves, and the world around us? If we open ourselves up to this, we can access a joyous plurality…with multitudes of possible experiences, of perspectives, and of creative voices. This exhibition perfectly complimented my double-vision viewing practice with a double message offering multiple ways of seeing modern life. At once zoomed out and zoomed in, both centred and peripheral, abstract and intimately detailed. Gursky’s work invites not just a double-vision but a multi-vision perspective on the contemporary world, and those within it, a reality created both by commonality and contradiction.
By Lucy-Ellen Bateman