Let me be a little honest here - who has not at times seen the odd photograph in an exhibition and wondered why it merits its place on the wall? This resistance is not limited to photography, but at times it is hard to discern the elevation of immediacy to well-considered art. Photography of course asks this fundamental question: Is it a great photograph, or is it a photograph of something great? My answer to this equation is for a photograph to meet both criteria, and even better is the great photograph which transforms its subject.
Andreas Gursky Bahrain I, 2005 C-print 302.2 x 219.6 x 6.2cm
© Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017 Courtesy: Sprüth Magers
Gursky is an artist who truly earns their place on any wall. He is a photographer who has a vision, and has meticulously and consistently produced fascinating work for decades. He has a painterly soul, and uses photography to create a view of the world.
Scale is definitely a word to describe Gursky's work. Many pieces are almost unfeasibly large photographs, showing what could be described as a multiplied, almost kaleidoscopic view. He is well-known for works such as stock exchanges and city views. It's enlightening to get the chance to see more of his works, including earlier and smaller pieces. It must be said that almost all of the works at the Hayward arrest the viewer with the same layers of potential as some epic painting. You can really spend a lot of time with each, enjoying and looking in so many different ways - for those who like to critique, there are many technical aspects to consider, and for those who like to analyse, there are multiple ways to interpret the views and the message. You can stand and stare.
I remember first seeing Gursky's images some years ago, and being somewhat alarmed by the dystopian view, as if showing humans swarming like insects around some futile activity. Over time, we become more accustomed to the intensity and multiplicity of the view, and begin to see it differently. Yes, the commentary still remains, referencing globalisation, population, over production, mechanisation, as well as questions about purpose and existence itself. Gursky shows an image as a cluster of ideas, and a well-composed intersection of thought.
Andreas Gursky 99 Cent II, 1999/2009
C-print, diasec 207 x 325 x 6.2cm © Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017 Courtesy: Sprüth Magers
Gursky uses photographic, and increasingly, digital processes to make works. Much depends upon gaining the position for the overview. I've always resisted reading too much about his processes - what bits are real, what manipulated, as I much prefer not really knowing that, imagining which parts are actual and which digitised. I prefer the magic rather than pulling away the curtain.
The Hayward has not tampered with its concrete Brutalist interior apart from paving the floor and stairs with something presumably designed to withstand the next few decades. Those tiles would certainly not be my choice - they seem too warmly-coloured, too small a grid, that they may compete with some work, than the plain interior pavement that was there before. Still there is the disconcerting sense inside like wandering around a covered exterior, a little unsure of where to go. It's fine to get a bit lost, and find the upstairs galleries which has magnificently opened out with really excellent natural light coming through from the new roof pyramids.
There has been some remodelling, with a new cafe and shop - best for concrete and industrial related gifts. The project space is now downstairs, and showing new Arts Council collection acquisitions. It seems almost incredible that no one at Hayward seems to have noticed that their reopening is focused on a male artist, and that three of the four artists in the project space are also male. There are also women artists, you know. It's not a new thing. The only reason they tend not to be as well-known as men, is that they do not get as promoted as male artists. This has skewed our culture for centuries, with women artists, famous in their time, overlooked by subsequent generations. Legacy starts now, Hayward. Give it some thought.
Andreas Gursky retrospective
London SE1 8XX
25th January - 22nd April 2018
26th January 2018