Artists such as Andreas Gursky come across as a paradox. His images are superficial to the point of becoming a celebration of surface itself and turn it into an aesthetic category. Having said that, their own artistic persona seems to contradicts that because his presentation is that of a very profound and intelligent human being. The truth however is that they have nothing to say and lack the necessary wit that true art should have.In a way they become a conflation of technological skills and existential unhappiness which seems to be only mitigated by their apparent market success.
I am saying this because in Jan Schmidt-Garre Film, titled ‘Long Shot Close Up: Andreas Gursky’, we are invited to witness three moments of Gursky’s life. The first one is the production of a photography since its very inception all the way to the show, the second one is to be at the opening of that show with his parents and mentors and finally, a short interview where Gursky shares his views on art and photography.
The photography in question is his ‘Hamm, Bergwerk Ost, 2008 C-Print (307 x 223.6 x 6.2’ cm). This image was taken from below the hanging working outfits of a group of German miners. Gursky arrives to the place like a movie star, he does not really engage with anyone and every move is macho like but also very discreet in a German way. He projects the image of a genius at work but there is also a certain violence about him. The decision that he has to make in situ has to do with which angle to photograph in order to arrange the light through photoshop. His assistant is there helping him in every step of the way and when he says that he doesn’t like something, the assistant immediately gives him, at least, six options from which Gursky says: ‘yes, let’s do that’.
Then we pass to the studio and Gursky is not even there anymore because the assistant, who is clearly an expert in Photoshopping, says that Andreas likes it this and that way. The point is that they change the colours in some of the outfits and add some in the back and the whole thing becomes a painting of sorts (through digital means) and voila!
In the meantime, we see Gursky with his first gallerist who I think is the wife of his teacher Bernd Becher. The way they speak is disconnected and has to do with guessing what has been left in a picture and what hasn’t during the process of photoshopping. The issue of a little figure in the back ground becomes a huge issue of composition and to be honest everything seems very self explanatory to me but for them is a huge issue.
Finally we have the day of the opening in his university in Essen (and not Dusseldorf, as it is often believed to be) where his mother and father are proudly witnessing his son’s glory in the coldest and detached way. Everything is a masterclass in restrain to the point of self-repression. The result is that the people around him look unhappy, he looks unhappy. There is something weird going on in the German arts world. I don’t know what it is but look at Hans Obrist because it is kind of the same. I cannot pin it down but there is a Wagnerian spleen there that perspires and clearly matches the neatness demanded by the corporate world which is the main patron of this kind of art.
So after the viewing we land in Ukraine chez Viktor Pinchuk who is one of the biggest art world speculators. He is one of the biggest Gursky collectors in the world and we are told that ‘Hamm, Bergwerk Ost’ had been commissioned by him. This work is very close to the oligarch’s heart because he used to be a miner. So memories, humanity, oligarchs, nazism, sadness and corporations leave a very, very weird taste in one’s mouth. Depressing to be honest.