Andreas Gursky, ‘Bangkok VII’, 2011, Phillips

In Bangkok VII, Gursky produces a highly expressionistic ‘painting’ via photoshop manipulation, by adding the illusion of oil spills onto the surface of the fast-flowing urban water of Chao Phraya river in central Bangkok. It is a footprint of the major concerns that surround Gursky’s oeuvre: it inhabits the middle ground between abstraction and figuration, it explores photographic techniques vis-à-vis painterly devices, and it studies the effects of globalisation on the earth and human psyche. From the surface, the river’s extreme pollution is captured to reflect the condition of modern city life. In this work, Gursky turns an everyday mundane place into an index of the human experience: ‘I am working on an encyclopaedia of life,’ explained Gursky. This work is a perfect example of his talent for assimilating the common belief that photography is the most accurate mode to represent reality with the truth-claim of abstract painting; thus, demonstrating the potential application of abstraction beyond the medium of painting.

The present lot is of the same ilk as these earlier works by Gursky, although part of its power consists in what it doesn’t say. If the environmental issues plaguing Bangkok (and which caused terrible floods not long after the creation of the works) are evoked by the piece, then so is a kind of anti-civilised, pre- and post-historic state. Both the short- and the long-term consequences of human excess are suggested in the cosmic forms in the work’s colours.

  • Courtesy of Phillips

Signed 'Andreas Gursky' on a label affixed to the reverse of the backing board.

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Private Collection

About Andreas Gursky

In his resplendent large-scale photographs, Andreas Gursky captures the modern world, and its landscapes, people, architecture, and industries, in seductive detail. Shot from an elevated perspective and produced on an epic scale, Gursky’s images show the individual or granular—supermarket products, soccer players, windows on a building, or islands in the sea—subsumed by the masses or the environment. Drawing influence from his schooling under Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gursky rigorously composes his expansive views to envelop viewers with dizzying scale, detail, and color—effects he often heightens through digital manipulation. “In the end I decided to digitalize the pictures and leave out elements that bothered me,” he said of his “Rhine” photographs (1999), one of which set the record in late 2011 for the highest price ever paid for a photograph at auction. Gursky bears a close comparison to other members of the Dusseldorf School, particularly Thomas Struth, Axel Hütte, and Candida Höfer.

German, b. 1955, Leipzig, Germany, based in Düsseldorf, Germany