White Cube Bermondsey presented an exhibition by Andreas Gursky, his first in London since 2007 and his second with the gallery. Gursky’s photographs frequently depict the landscape and structures of late capitalism; its sites of industry, leisure and consumption with sharp and critical acuity. In this exhibition, which includes both new and earlier work, Gursky addresses aspects of both high and low visual culture, exploring the themes of image manufacture and exchange, as well as ideas of authenticity, ownership and control in our increasingly digitised age.
The exhibition included the first of a new series of images inspired by Hollywood comic-book heroes, set in isolated and idealized landscape settings. Some of these so-called 'Super Hero' works incorporate actual figures from the feature films – Iron Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man - while others seek to convey impressions of instantly recognizable iconic characters. With an economy of means, these images assert the power of fantasy and the pervasiveness of pop cultural imagery and their combined effects on the collective consciousness.
The museum as a site of consumption and arbiter of market forces is the subject of the works Lehmbruck I (2013) and Lehmbruck II (2014). These two new works present the distinctive glass and concrete architecture of the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, adjusted to appear more like a stage set, with a selection of iconic works of art and an audience of one or two carefully placed figures. The interiors have been shot from a characteristically elevated vantage point, which serves to emphasise the hieratic nature of museum architecture.
Kirchentag (2013) and May Day IV (2000/2014) depict the hive-like activity of two mass festival gatherings in Germany. Seen from an aerial perspective, individuals are only just discernible, reduced to tiny presences, busy with their own personal activities but adhering to the crowd. The works recall the micro/macro expediency of the film Powers of 10 (1977) by Charles and Ray Eames, but condense this tension into a single, large-scale image which contrasts a feeling of infinite expanse with repetition and detailed precision. This sense of mass in these works is enhanced by their all-over compositions, formally echoed in the Ocean and Bangkok works. In Bangkok V and Bangkok VI (2011), dramatic patches of light and reflected neon are caught on the surface of rippling water on the Chao Phraya river in central Bangkok. Their linear compositions recall abstract painting but, on closer inspection, reveal the flotsam and jetsam of daily life. In Ocean II (2010), Gursky presents a fractured sense of the world: an azure expanse of sea bordered by the edges of unidentifiable land masses. Like Kirchentag and May Day IV, it transforms familiarity into otherness, presenting a fragment of something unfathomably large to create a sense of dislocation and disorientation.