In MAST, Andreas Gursky captures globalization in the world of work from Bahrain to Arizona

“Visual Spaces of Today” by Andreas Gursky

From May 25, 2023, the German photographer Andreas Gursky is exhibiting 40 of his images documenting globalization and mass consumption at the Fondazione MAST in Bologna. Entitled “Visual Spaces of Today”, the exhibition, co-curated by Urs Stahel, highlights the photographer’s thematic images that suggest perspectives on work, the economy and globalization.

Each photo shows the specific spaces of manufacturing plants, transshipment centers, temples of consumption, transportation hubs, energy and food industries, and financial centers around the world. Gursky chose the images considering the acronym MAST, which stands for Manifattura di Arti, Sperimentazione, Tecnologia (Factory of Arts, Experience and Technology).

The exhibition, which coincides with the Fondazione Mast’s 10th anniversary, features 40 paintings by the artist on his travels, ranging from his early works (Krefeld, Hühner, 1989) to his more recent productions (V&R II and V&R III, 2022) range great lengths, from Salerno (1990) to Hong Kong (2020) and combining the modern tourism industry (Rimini, 2003) with centuries-old production processes (Salinas, 2021).

Andreas Gursky, Kodak, 1995 © ANDREAS GURSKY by SIAE 2023, photo by Sprüth Magers | Header image: Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent II, diptych, 2001 © ANDREAS GURSKY by SIAE 2023, photo by Sprüth Magers | Images courtesy of Fondazione MAST

Salerno marks Andreas Gursky’s landscape photography

Andreas Gursky sits in the Fondazione MAST, a serious expression on his face, pondering the selection of the images that are close to his heart. One of these is Salerno (1990), the first image in the exhibition, which welcomes the viewer into his documentary photo cave. Driving along the Italian coast on vacation, the uniformed rows of vehicles and stacked dockside containers suddenly came into view. Gursky had learned the basics of black and white photography in art and even crossed that path early in his career. This time he pulled out his camera in Salerno and captured the industrial landscape in color.

“I wanted to photograph this landscape and I said to myself, ‘It’s time to do what I want.’ I used a tripod and took the pictures quickly because the sun was already setting. At the time I wasn’t sure if it would be a picture of me, but when I came back to my workshop and looked at the result, it also felt like a postcard to me. I have to say that this image is important to me because it marked the beginning of my landscape photography. Looking back at this image, I recognize the moment I shifted my approach to large format photography. “This picture was a turning point for me,” says Gursky during the press conference at Fondazione MAST.

Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I, 2005 © ANDREAS GURSKY by SIAE 2023 | Photo by Sprüth Magers

Globalization in the world of work

Large format photographs by Andreas Gursky adorn the exhibition rooms of the Fondazione MAST. The intentional size encourages the viewer to go beyond the intended line view to examine the images closely and discover details that escape the naked eye at first glance. The globalization of the world of work gradually unfolds as viewers come to terms with the world they live in, which depends on mass consumption and the ever-changing economy that affects the way people work. But beyond the social and political themes Gursky has captured, a poetic and nostalgic tone overshadows the photos through the details that the viewer may overlook when viewing the shots for the first time.

For Kamiokande (2007), Gursky flew to Japan and photographed the neutrino detector research facility and observatory. “It was about 1,000 meters below sea level to prevent radiation,” says Gursky. He adds that the facility would normally be filled with water, but during his visit the cavernous observatory appeared to be short of water. Rows of golden spheres lure and hold the viewer’s attention as he gazes at the image, suspended yet attached to the facility’s wall. In Gursky’s picture, the spheres seem to light up one after the other, almost belying the viewer as to the details that make the picture odic. Bottom right, two rowers paddle with rowers through the still water. “Without these boats, the picture would have been scientific.” I was moved by this detail. “It gives the picture a romantic and musical perspective,” says Gursky.

Andreas Gursky, Rimini, 2003 | Image © designboom

Compositions and unity in fine art photography

Composition is important to Andreas Gursky. While post-processing can be helpful, being in the moment and getting the shot at the right time and angle is crucial for the photographer. Sometimes Gursky looks for fragments that can stitch the whole picture together, an attempt viewers can see in Bahrain I (2005). Here he jumped into a helicopter and, armed with his camera, circled the circuit of the Bahrain International Circuit like a vulture awaiting prey. Beyond the photos and into the editing, Gursky created a winding racetrack that descends from a sandy mountain, with every car and person disappearing from view.

Uniformity follows balance, and such a style can be seen in many of Gursky’s paintings. In RHEIN II (1999) there was a chance encounter. “It wasn’t what I envisioned the end result to be, but after that I started thinking about how I would photograph and explore the subject of abstract expressionism,” he says. The picture radiates tranquility in nature. Gursky was out hiking and jogging when he ran along the banks of the Rhine. At some point during his run, he stopped and saw the image of a large abstract horizon in nature with green grass and streams of water stretching endlessly like a seamless band. There he knew it would be an image that would show the stillness on the horizon without any disturbances.

Andreas Gursky, Hong Kong Shanghai Bank III, 2020 © ANDREAS GURSKY by SIAE 2023 | Photo by Sprüth Magers

Salinas on Ibiza as an image of tranquillity

In the Fondazione MAST serenity in the midst of rapid globalization and hidden quiet moments in times of big city bustle come into play. Andreas Gursky is adept at drawing the viewer into the painterly compositions of his images for visual purposes, while at the same time forcing them into the sphere of social and political nuances that are omnipresent in his industrial and landscape photographs. For a moment, viewers revel in silence, enjoying the momentary stillness, then seconds later, more gradually than abruptly, they see the world they live in drop from the momentary high point back down to earth.

The last image Gursky discussed at Fondazione Mast was Salinas (2021). The photographer traveled to Ibiza and captured the landscape of salt pans at the foot of craggy, rocky hills. No distinctive details stand out; only silhouettes of the gridded ponds and mountains. The opaque lines and slopes underscore the scenic landscape, captured at the right time and angle. The sun has set but has turned the sky to orange hues and the brilliance of the water reflects the surroundings. With camera at the ready, Gursky caught the respite, breathed in the wondrous stillness and breathed out the globalization in the world of work for a while.


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