On 26th June 2013, Sothebys
London will offer a collection of five iconic depictions of international stock exchanges by Andreas Gursky. These monumental and dynamic images, with a combined estimate of £2.5-3.4 million, represent one of the most arresting metaphors for the socioeconomic topography of our age. Initiated in 1990, and revisited throughout Gurskys career, this seminal series represents a technical and conceptual watershed. The Chicago Board of Trade, Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Tokyo Stock Exchange and Kuwait Stock Exchange are depicted with Gurskys Gods-eye perspective, in a group of works which is the most significant comprehensive collection in public or private hands. Visitors to Sothebys exhibition prior to the sale, will have the unique opportunity of seeing the largest group of works from the Stock Exchange series ever shown together.
Oliver Barker, Sothebys Deputy Chairman, Europe and Senior International Specialist, Contemporary Art commented: This is a landmark collection and undoubtedly the most important group of works by Andreas Gursky to ever come to market. Sothebys holds the auction record for a Gursky Stock Exchange and with examples of the series held by leading institutions including MoMA and the Tate, we anticipate enormous interest in these works. Not only are they fresh to the market, but they represent the apotheosis of Gurskys technique and trademark subject. Standing before these epic works one is literally engulfed by the overwhelming spectacle, power and dynamism of the stock exchanges and their trading floors.
More than any artist of his generation, Andreas Gurskys photographic eye identifies the subjects of our contemporary landscape which most acutely define the way we live today. His Stock Exchange series, ten images made over 20 years on three continents, chart the history of our modern age of globalisation. The activities of his traders link the entire globe through an invisible matrix of trades and economic dependency. Reduced in scale to the size of ants, they force the viewer to critically reappraise the very nature of human activity.
Tokyo Stock Exchange of 1990, from an edition of four, the only one in private hands, is estimated at £500,000-700,000. The first of Gurskys pantheon of trading floors, this vision set the blueprint and structure for his future practice. Gursky saw an image of the exchange in the local press when he was in Japan for a group exhibition. The image captured his imagination and he set about gaining access to the trading floor to make his own photograph.
The artist subsequently began to scrutinise the physical manifestation of the explosively volatile and rapidly growing global economy. Suspended in motion, the frantic energy contained in this and all his subsequent trading floors, suggests they are poised on the edge of apotheosis or collapse.
Hong Kong Stock Exchange of 1994, a diptych estimated to realise £300,000-400,000, offers a markedly different and strictly geometric panorama of the trading floor. The traders are depicted as anonymous individuals frantically at work in front of computer screens. In this work Gursky explores the use of multiple viewpoints to compose a single expansive scene. The result is a sprawling frontal panorama without a single centring vantage point that has been dominant in art history since the discovery of perspective.
Chicago Board of Trade, 1997 (est. £700,000-900,000) and Chicago Board of Trade III, 1999-2009 (est. £600,000-800,000) depict one of the most iconic photographic subjects of the late Twentieth Century. In these images Gursky reduces each human being to a blob of colour, the traders brightly hued jackets - their specific meanings so clearly understood in the financial world transformed through the camera lens into daubs of colour serving the same purpose as pigment to a painter. Seen from afar, the eye struggles to discern the detail in these works and the image becomes a masterpiece of abstraction. The lack of spatial depth, combined with all over surface detail recalls the work of Jackson Pollock - but as one approaches each image, the eye is rewarded with ever increasing detail and vignettes of individual traders and their activities. Hovering above the teeming expanse of the trading pit in the former work, the viewer is overwhelmed by colour and activity. Gone is the geometric abstraction of Hong Kong. This monument to the goliath of global trade and the seat of contemporary economic power is an image of dissolution and abstraction. Chicago Board of Trade III represents the highest point of Gurskys creative powers. Recreated from original negatives taken in 1999, using the rapidly evolving tools of digital manipulation, the balance between abstraction and figuration is pushed to its limits. The colour and composition, expansive minutiae of detail and theatrical throng of human activity, instil the composition with an art historical grandeur, much aligned to the heroic conceits of history painting. With his Gods-eye vantage point, Gursky reduces the figures to the scale of ants, forcing a critical reappraisal of human activity. This will be the first time Chicago Board of Trade III has been offered at auction.
Kuwait Stock Exchange II of 2008, (est. £400,000-600,000) is the most recent of Gurksys exchange subjects. The work is remarkable for its striking and minimalist palette, informed by the uniformity of the traders white robes. The ostensible culture clash of the Arabic world with a typically Western financial prototype furthers Gurskys treatment of an overarching human constant. During the late 2000s the artist focussed his lens on the unbridled displays of wealth in the Middle East, particularly those staged within the Emirate States. As a financial centre, Kuwait stands in dialogue with Gurskys photographs of Dubai as the 21st Century destination for conspicuous consumption and luxury.
*Estimates do not include buyers premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyers premium.