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Contemporary Art, Evening
Lot 3: ANDREAS GURSKY B. 1955 MAY DAY IV
signed, titled, dated 2000 and numbered 1/6 on the backing board
Chromogenic color print in artist's frame
Galerie Monika Sprüth, Cologne
Gerard Faggionato Fine Arts, London
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Barcelona, Museo de Historia de la Ciutat de Barcelona, The Human Condition: the Dream of a Shadow, May - September 2004, p. 170, illustrated in color
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art (and traveling), Andreas Gursky, 2001, cat. no. 59, pp. 182-183, illustrated in color (another example) and illustrated in color on the cover (detail)
Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Andreas Gursky, 2001 (another example)
Richard Burbridge, "The Beauty and the Power", Creative Review, vol. 21, no. 4, April 2001, p. 82, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Andreas Gursky, 2002, pp. 52-53, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop, 2002, cat. no. 10, p. 59, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., Oslo, Galleri K, Andreas Gursky, 2002 (another example)
The importance of May Day IV was confirmed by the artist himself and the Museum of Modern Art, New York when they chose the work as the cover of the catalogue for his major retrospective in 2001. This exhibition confirmed Gursky as one of the greatest artistic visionaries of his generation. Very much sidelined as a medium until the early 1990s, Gursky has transformed photography into the vehicle for some of today's most exciting and profound conceptual art. Tackling many different aspects of art historical and photographic reference, his work also articulates many serious issues to do with the way that today's generation lives. The presence of May Day IV on the cover of the catalogue for this exhibition underlined the fact that this work was not only a masterpiece of contemporary photography but, like all truly great art, also somehow captured the zeitgeist of its generation.
Trading on the strict, subconscious order which permeates all Contemporary existence, Andreas Gursky's photography scans the modern day landscape; assessing, analysing, highlighting and enhancing the gargantuan nature of the containers which enshroud human activity. Having been taught by Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the early 1970s, his art continues their goal of an impersonal objectivity, which was inimical to West Germany's post war photographic development. Informed by the careful arrangements of Minimalism and the visual realization of an idea which was central to Conceptual Art, his photography proposes the world as a series of monumentally-scaled, beautifully packaged vitrines of life. Somehow hinting at the organized, engulfing nature of the 'landscapes' which we, as humanity, have created for ourselves, Gursky seizes on these places and moments. He enlarges their photographic reality to create grand tapestries which depict the complexities of Modern life.
May Day IV is taken from a groundbreaking series of works which contain large crowds of people within the confines of the photographic frame. Gursky began this particular series in the early 1990s in the wake of the biggest economic slump in recent memory. During that time, the advanced Capitalist dream of the young upwardly mobile stockbroker was collapsing, and with the world falling apart around him, a new culture of ecstatic party revelling was being born in which people danced their way out of depression. As a result of economic cutbacks, people were forced to find alternative forms of entertainment and the cult of the large 'house party', held in underground, illegal sites, was born. So, on the one hand these vast centers of commerce in all of the major city centers of the world were packed with hundreds of stockbrokers attempting to buy and sell their way out of the slump, and on the other, vast warehouses in the middle of nowhere were being packed with revellers attempting to dance away their troubles. Gursky drew parallels between these two phenomenon in some of his most visually astounding works. Focussing solely on the almost claustrophobic gathering of large crowds into small buildings, Gursky witnessed how these spaces had come to possess a vast influence on the quality of human life. More than this, he had come to realize that these hidden, sanctified shrines to dance and the economy possessed a mutual visual compartmentalization, symptomatic of all human areas of consumption. In Gursky's hands the packed Dance- or Stock Exchange- floor, traditionally associated with the frantic hustle and bustle of competition and stress becomes a sublime spectacle of aesthetic order, a joyous explosion of structured color. With the dancer's or trader's hands raised as if in contemplatory prayer to a higher being, the formal structure of their organization is consciously aligned with that of the church and arrangement of color within the congregation knowingly paralleled with the aspirational and meditative experience of Abstract Expressionism.
As it totally encompasses the viewer's panorama with its vast explosion of rhythmical color, the spectacular simplicity and beauty of May Day IV mark it out as Gursky's most significant work on the theme of rave parties. Ever since Hieronymous Bosch depicted a massed group of revellers in The Garden of Earthly Delights in the 15th Century, large scale depictions of social spectacle and debauchery have been ever present in art history. However, nowhere has it been presented on such a breathtaking scale as here. As the most politically loaded worker's holiday in the German calendar, May Day provides the opportunity for some of the largest parties and here, Gursky's viewpoint immediately makes us aware that we are the outsiders looking in on a very private activity. With no visible ceiling or floor, the only support structure that the revellers appear to have is the picture frame. Viewed from on-high, the God-like perspective of Gursky's gaze turns the hundreds of revellers into miniature insect-like forms uncannily dwarfed by their environment. As they buzz across the floor, the luminosity of their clothes creates a magnificent tapestry of interlocking colors which expands across the extreme horizon of the viewer's vision. This chaotic group of people seems to be organized by some invisible principle or hidden logic as the huge mass of color appears to sway in one large body towards the right side of the image, creating a magnificent sense of movement. They all appear to be moving in one direction, but Gursky's clever cropping ensures that the target of their motion, if indeed there is one, is obscured.
Each individual has become submerged in a mass of crisply delineated, atomized cells which together form a flattened circuit-board like whole. Inviting the eye to scan across the lines of information, one becomes aware of a unique new development for Gursky. In May Day IV he has emphasized the digital nature of his production with an enhanced pixillation of the image to create a heightened grain structure on the surface of the photograph. Thus as one moves closer to the image, not only do smaller narratives within the constructed whole become more visible, but more colors articulate their behavior and begin to break down their very existence. As such, May Day IV presents to us, not necessarily the documentation of an event, but of a beautifully structured organism, a grand tableau which captures and halts the frantic movement of the dancers into a kaleidoscope of color and form. Aligning the sublime bliss of the rave with the Zen-like qualities of a Jackson Pollock 'action' painting or the Minimalist Geometry of a Gerhard Richter Farbfeld, Gursky here posits a highly majestic invitation for us to visit the new cathedrals of Modern Day Religion.
Dimensions: framed: 82 x 200 in. 208.3 x 508 cm.
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Contemporary Art, Evening