In 2018, Hayward Gallery reopened with the first major UK retrospective of the work of acclaimed German photographer Andreas Gursky. Known for his large-scale, often spectacular pictures that portray emblematic sites and scenes of the global economy and contemporary life, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant photographers of our time.
Driven by an interest and insight into ‘the way that the world is constituted’, as well as what he describes as ‘the pure joy of seeing’, Gursky makes photographs that are not just depictions of places or situations, but reflections on the nature of image-making and the limits of human perception. Often taken from a high vantage point, these images make use of a ‘democratic’ perspective that gives equal importance to all elements of his highly detailed scenes.
This exhibition features around 60 of the artist’s ground-breaking photographs from the early 1980s through to his most recent work, and includes some of his most iconic pictures such as Paris, Montparnasse (1993) and Rhine II (1999, remastered 2015).
Andreas Gursky marks the beginning of the Hayward Gallery’s 50th anniversary year and is the first exhibition to take place in the gallery following its two-year refurbishment. For the first time since the Hayward’s original opening, the gallery’s pyramid roof lights will allow natural light into the spaces below.
Andreas Gursky was born in 1955 in Leipzig, East Germany. Shortly after, he and his family escaped East Germany for the West, moving first to Essen and then to Düsseldorf, where Gursky grew up.
In Essen, Gursky’s parents established a commercial photography studio, which later flourished in Düsseldorf. According to Gursky, the majority of his childhood was spent in this studio, where he would regularly plunder the ‘treasure-trove of equipment’ for ‘anything that looked like it might be fun to play with.’
Gursky studied photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen (1977–80), and the Düsseldorf Art Academy (1980–87), where the photography course was run by esteemed conceptual artists Bernd and Hilla Becher, and where artists including Gerhard Richter also taught classes. At the Academy Gursky was taught alongside Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer and Axel Hütte – a group of photographers who have since become known as the ‘Düsseldorf School’.
While Gursky’s early pictures were made using an analogue camera – the same ‘cumbersome old Linhof’ that his father used – he has been making use of digital photography since the early 1990s. Over the past three decades his innovative photography has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including the National Museum of Art, Japan (2014), the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (2012) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2001).
Although Gursky’s work has taken him all over the world – from North and South America to Japan and North Korea – the artist continues to be based in Düsseldorf, where since 2010 he has been a professor of Liberal Arts at the Art Academy.