Few living photographers have more name recognition than Andreas Gursky, and here’s why. Gursky became the most expensive photographer at auction in 2011 when one of his giant images sold for a record $4.3 million at Christie's. A retrospective of his work just opened at the Hayward Gallery in London, and his U.K. dealer, White Cube, is making the connection very clear.
The first thing you see at White Cube Bermondsey these days is “Review,” a wall-length Gursky from 2015 that’s identical to one hanging in the Hayward. It shows the backs of the heads of four German chancellors as they sit across from a Barnett Newman abstract. The scene is pure fabrication: Gursky put it together (digitally) from scratch.
Can the product of a photographer's imagination still be a photograph? Gursky would like you to think so -- and White Cube will easily sell the picture. But the Gurskys that both critics and collectors still prefer are the ones from a couple of decades ago, that represent real-life scenes: the stock-exchange floors, the 99-cent store.
Beyond that, it’s more than a little unsettling to see one of the photographs in the Gursky show hanging on its own in a room at White Cube. You too can own a museum piece, it cries out. As a stand-alone display, it communicates just one message: “buy me.”
At the far end of the gallery is Eddie Peake's atmospheric evocation of his youth in the unglamorous north London area of Finsbury Park. Peake (son of artist Phyllida Barlow) brings it all to life with a DJ from Kool London (an online radio station) broadcasting cool beats from a windowed enclosure. There's also a suite of snaking, surgical-like steel tables covered with thrift-store items, melted wax, contorted sculptures, and turntables emitting a low hum. Everything is bathed in pink light, and walls are adorned with brightly colored and patterned paintings. A curtained area projects dance pieces by naked performers (hence the nudity warning signs). The installation is fun, but gimmicky, and you walk away feeling as if you’ve seen a college art project more than an exhibition.
The most moving show at White Cube is Chinese artist He Xiangyu’s poetic evocation of North Korea. The artist was born next to the Yalu River that demarcates the border between China and North Korea, and he can be seen in a film (and excerpts from it) swimming across that river to reach an arid stretch of North Korean soil. White Cube also shows a room of more than 248 bits of scrap metal that the artist found on a black market while filming; they were used for barter by North Korean factory and construction workers. These coiled bits of wire, cable and tubing are neatly hung on the wall as sorrowful mementoes of everyday suffering. Placed on the floor beneath them are He’s own coiled-copper creations; they look like miniature tombstones.
The exhibition is on view through April 8, 2018, at White Cube, 144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, London, UK.
For details, visit: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/galleryguide/white-cube-gallery/overview
Founder Louise Blouin: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/artists/louise-blouin--2953510