Published by Safe-T-Gallery Inc.
Don Burmeister: Owner/Editor
Barbara Confino: Associate Editor
As befits the photographer who broke the $3,000,000 line for a single photograph*, Andreas Gursky’s show at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea is huge. The show consists of two recent series of photographs, both with water as a central focus, and the pictures weighing in at almost 8 feet on the short side and up to 13 feet on the long. No shrinking violet he. In the more recent 2011 series, the dark, dirty waters of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok are given Gursky’s fully augmented reality treatment. In the 2010 series, he places the dark and dirty waters of the world’s oceans in the center, with satellite imagery of the surrounding continental and island land masses creating giant cartographic illusions.
The ‘Bangkok’ images are garbage, both literally and figuratively. Who has not stood by the side of a river and watched the sunlight glisten and streak while flotsam and jetsam from upstream pass by? Here the flotsam and jetsam are condoms, bloated stuffed animals, and sewage from a city of 12 million people. The light on the water has been extended to almost forever, though the images are dark and have none of the sparkle or excitement of the real thing. Life is short–– do you really want to spend it looking at photographs of other people’s shit?
Turning the corner in the gallery and going into the ‘Oceans’ room offers a breath of fresh sea air. Suddenly you are in the Map Room of a Renaissance prince. Huge swathes of the Earth’s surface are laid out before you. The oceans of the world and all its surrounding continents are there to examine and comprehend.
Gursky centers each image (but one) on the ocean rather than on land, and then places satellite imagery of the surrounding land masses around it. High-resolution content you just can’t beat it! We can see the Atlantic Ocean and then travel the slave routes from Africa to the Caribbean to New York. We can see chains of South Pacific islands from New Guinea to Samoa, then down to New Zealand. The arc from the Aleutian Islands to Kamchatka to Japan has never been more clearly delineated.
But cartography has always been tricky. Flattening out a round object onto a flat surface is not possible without some distortion (think Greenland) and even using the high resolution data from a satellite does not eliminate the need for compromise. But altering realistic imagery to create a supra-realistic image is Andreas Gursky’s entire raison d'etre. Just as his three million dollar image of the giant 99 cent store conveys that particular type of consumer experience better than any real store could, these ‘maps’ convey certain aspects of the world better than any straight-forward Mercator projection.
In this Ocean Series, Gursky, like the map-makers of old, creates maps that are as much about the way the world should be, as about the way it is. So be warned, if you install one of these photos in your yacht (and if you can afford these pictures you surely already own a yacht) don’t expect to get to Kiribati on time it’s a lot further away than it seems.
*While we were idling our time in front of these big pictures, Christie’s was busy auctioning another Gursky snap, “Rhine II”, for $4.3 million.