The Priciest Highlights of the Andreas Gursky Photography in Auction

June 3, 2016

Andreas Gursky photography is distinctive for its critical view of the effects of capitalism and globalization on the modern-day life. The German photographer has started with small-scale black and white prints, however, in the 1980s he shifted his focus on color film and spontaneous creation and produced a series of works that depicted people in everyday situations, especially those of leisure, such as hiking, swimming, and skiing. Since the 1990s, Andreas has become interested in tourism and commerce sites, creating the works which highlight the overwhelming high-tech industry and global markets of today. Depicting everything from fancy hotel lobbies to the nameless architecture, warehouses, and apartment building, all the way to parliaments and stock exchanges of Brasilia, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles, the artist has taken upon himself to create these images in an original and sometimes unconventional manner. His works can be derived from everything from black and white photographs in the newspapers to the full-color landscape works, offering a variety of styles and scales that make his works especially interesting to the critics and the general public.

Andreas Gursky photography has been exhibited internationally, from Venice Biennale of Architecture to Shanghai Biennale, Sao Paolo Biennial, and Sydney Biennial. He has also had a number of solo shows in prestigious exhibition spaces all over the world, such as The National Museum of Art in Osaka, The National Art Center in Tokyo, Museum Kuntpalast in Dusseldorf, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, among others. Since his photographs are so sought after and talked about, we have decided to bring you his ten priciest works sold in auctions. So grab a cuppa and scroll down to see the amazing Andreas Gursky photography.

Editors’ Tip: Andreas Gursky: Photographs from 1984 to the Present

If you are interested in knowing more about Andreas Gursky photography, this book is the one for you. Encompassing his works since 1984 (how symbolic) to 2001, this book is the first monograph of his large-format color photographs depicting various panoramic scenes, from cityscapes, to endless horizons, and multi-floored office buildings. Often taken in bird’s eye view, they are more than just photographs. They represent Gursky’s potentials as an artist and a social critic while offering the signature 20th-century aesthetics he is famous for. Andreas Gursky is among the most respected landscape photographers of his generation, and we completely agree with this statement, therefore, you will surely enjoy this book if you like Gursky’s works as much as we do.

All images are for illustrative purposes only.

Rhein I (1996)

Rhein I, executed in 1996, is the photographic investigation of minimalist abstraction and the ideas of the absolute. In this masterfully manipulated image, the viewer is confronted with the organic flow of the river which is frozen in time, flattened and simplified, but still depicting the natural landscape, timeless and monumental. Andreas Gursky photography emphasizes the natural by employing the linear structure, bereft of all detail in order to capture the timeless quality of the mesmerizing stillness of the water. The artist himself has stated that he deliberately edited the photograph to remove the unnecessary elements that bothered him. He treats the landscape as a sculptor would treat his material, molding and cutting the pieces to produce his version of perfection.

Rhein I was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2014 for $1,805,000. Click here to see more details on the piece and the auction.

Frankfurt (2007)

Frankfurt is a prime example of Andreas Gursky photography and his aesthetic practice. The depicted scene of the Frankfurt airport captures the people who occupy the lower part of the image, and the massive board that provides the information on the departures, gates, and times is the one dominating the picture. Gursky is the pioneer of the photography manipulation, using new editing technologies. Even though the viewers are aware that the photograph has been doctored, these manipulations are so subtle, they do not distort the reality of the depicted scenes. In this piece, Gursky has highlighted the certain clusters of people who become more isolated from the surrounding world and from each other. The destination board symbolizes the map of the world, different to that we are familiar with, picturesque and lively. Instead, it offers the data, cold and man-made, emphasizing the man’s denaturalization of the world, and his need to systematize and turn the world into facts and data, rather than just letting it be in its natural state.

Frankfurt was sold in 2010 at Sotheby’s New York for $2,098,500. See more details here.

Pyongyang IV (2007)

Pyongyang IV is an image that offers the glimpse into the North Korea’s Arirang Festival, and investigates the themes of surface ornament and pattern, recurring in his best works, but in an entirely different part of the world than that we are used to. North Korea is the last frontier of the communist dictatorship, a complete opposite of the ultra-capitalism of the rest of the world. This North Korean festival is held annually and it commemorates the birth of the former leader of the country, Kim Il Sung, and it is the largest such event in the world. The spectacle that includes tens of thousands of gymnasts, highly skilled and mechanically precise in their synchronized moves, perform for the sea of people in the Rungrado May Day Stadium. In the background, thirty thousand school children dressed in white hold the sheets of differently colored paper to create a background image in a human mosaic.

This piece was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2015 for $1,390,000, before that in 2010 at Sotheby’s London for $2,134,240, and back in 2008 at Sotheby’s New York for $1,375,000. Click here to see more details.

Paris, Montparnasse (1993)

Paris, Montparnasse is one of the first examples of digitally manipulated Andreas Gursky photography. Executed in 1993, this image is a symbol of the anonymity in the urban society, high-tech communication, and globalization, as well as the growing alienation of the individuals within one community. The artist began photographing the French capital in the early 1990s, and since architecture is one of the central themes in his works, this image is one of his most iconic artworks and one of the most memorable pieces he created to this day. Gursky deliberately cropped the end of the building from this photo, making the viewers feel as if it could run endlessly, which is a technique he used in Rhein II in 1999.

Paris, Montparnasse was sold for $2,395,570. Click here to see more details.

99 Cent (1999)

Bigger is not always better, but in the case of 99 Cent, it most definitely is. Not only is this example of Andreas Gursky photography good just because it is large, but the fact that its size offers the maximum impact one photo can bring. The thing is, 99 Cent simply has to be this big for it to work. It is a piece that offers an endless amount of detail, it depicts something we see every day but simultaneously shows us something we actually don’t see as often. In the environments such as the one of 99 Cent, we often go into survival mode and search only for that we need, and tend to leave as soon as possible. We as humans were not made to take in this much visual stimuli, and as the advertisers know this, they tend to draw our attention to the product they want to sell. This is why this photo is so important, as it shows the world we as humans have created, and forced ourselves to ignore, and Andreas Gursky makes us see it as it is.

99 Cent was sold in 2006 at Sotheby’s New York for $2,256,000. Click here to see more details.

Chicago Board of Trade (1997)

Chicago Board of Trade, executed in 1997 is packed with kaleidoscopic details that unify into a glorious, transcended whole. It investigates the relationship between the micro and the macro scales, overlooking the scene from an almost scientific perspective. It represents the struggles of an everyman, the battles that take place at his workplace, in the hub of contemporary commerce. The individuals that occupy the photo are fragile and mortal, surrounded by the monumental architectonic space, and represent the natural phenomenon within the cold, calculated realm they’re in. Andreas Gursky photography often symbolizes the man’s frailty in the world of data and facts, and this photo is no different, as it provides the cautionary tale of the wealth, and inspires with its abstract beauty.

This photograph was sold in 2013 at Sotheby’s London for $2,007,100. See more details on the auctions (yes, there was more than one) here.

Los Angeles (1998)

The photograph that made it onto the numerous top 5, top 10, and top 15 lists of most expensive photos ever sold in auctions is Andreas Gursky’s Los Angeles, executed in 1998. The viewer is blown away by Gursky’s vision of Los Angeles when standing in front of this vast panorama. The horizon almost represents the curvature of the Earth, and represents one of the largest examples of Andreas Gursky photography, spanning over three and a half meters in width. The window to the contemporary life offers the view of the Los Angeles landscape, bereft of unnecessary details in a true Gursky fashion. He used a large format view camera to bring focus to the important details of the LA skyline, offering the romanticized composition of the city famous for its fast-paced lifestyle.

Los Angeles was sold in 2008 at Sotheby’s London for $2,931,890. Click here for more details.

Chicago Board of Trade III (2009)

Chicago Board of Trade III was executed in 2009 and takes the third place on our list of top 10 most expensive Andreas Gursky photography. This image depicts the overwhelming environment of the Chicago board of trade, which was the subject of another photograph Gursky captured in 1997. It represents the artist’s keen eye for patterns of social disorder and order that takes place at the stock exchanges. He was inspired to create such a series after seeing a photo of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in the newspaper article. The meaning and symbolism behind this photo are obvious, yet mysterious, allowing the viewer to analyze the piece in his own way, influenced by his personal experiences and past events that made him the person he is today.

Chicago Board of Trade III was sold in 2013 at Sotheby’s London for $3,308,230. Find out more about the piece and the auction by clicking here.

99 Cent II (2001)

This piece is a diptych made in 1999, and it represents the artist’s understanding of the way we see the world. “The fetishism of our material world” as Gursky described it. The horizontality of 99 Cent II is typically Gursky-ish. It allows the viewers to examine the saturated colors, the arrangement and the hypnotizing effect of the goods made for mass consumption and sold at an American market. It provides the insight into the shrine of capitalism, offering the view from above, instead from eye-level that we are used to. There is no central focus in this piece. Instead, we get the Jackson Pollock-like technique that makes the comparison of individual items almost impossible. Instead, the eye hovers across the parallel lines of articles available in the store, making the work of advertisers absolutely irrelevant.

99 Cent II was sold at Sotheby’s London in 2007 for $3,352,740. Click here for more details on the auctions and the piece itself.

Rhein II (1999)

The most expensive photograph ever sold is Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II, executed in 1999. The digitally manipulated image of the river is bereft of details, cut in half by the horizon, with the eerily empty sky, and perfectly lined with trees. The image gives the feeling of a very organized environment, almost never seen in nature, especially when you know that this is actually the picture of the river. The desaturated color may be a result of the digital tampering with the image or the film it was shot on. Rhein II surrounds the viewers with the sheer beauty of the scene, as it develops into an abstract composition from the linear one. The river goes on forever, allowing the viewer to get lost in its creepily steady flow, and think about the transience of life and the forces of nature.

Rhein II was sold in 2011 at Christie’s New York for the astounding $4,338,500. Click here to see more details.

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