The Hayward Gallery Is Back With A Massive Exhibition

Andreas Gursky, Hayward Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 9 months ago

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The Hayward Gallery Is Back With A Massive Exhibition Andreas Gursky, Hayward Gallery 4
The sprawl of a Tokyo suburb captured from a commuter train. Copyright Linda Nylind.

We're looking at the inside of an Amazon warehouse in Phoenix and the shelves seem to stretch on forever. Is it real or a digitally altered ruse? In our minds it could be either, it looks too big to be real but then the scale of consumerism is so large we wouldn't put it past Amazon.

Welcome to the world of Andreas Gursky, the large scale photographer who loves to play in the grey area on the edges of the believable — he's the perfect artist for an age where social media has us doubting most things. Gursky has been chosen to re-open the Hayward Gallery following a refurbishment that lasted over two years, but felt like forever. The gallery wanted to go for a big re-opening so they've chosen an artist who loves to operate at a massive scale — both in the size of the actual works and the subject matter he's photographing.

The manic energy of the Chicago board of trade. Copyright Linda Nylind.

A giant airport departure board is populated with hundreds of flights, a cattle ranch seems to extend into the horizon and a residential block in France appears to have no end. We live in a world of large scale production and consumerism and it's beyond most of us to comprehend. Gursky's massive photographs are all to do with confronting a side of our lives we never see — most of us will never have seen how a large scale farm operates or how Siemen's manufactures electrical components.

Four German leaders are re-united digitally in front of a painting. We'd love to listen in on that conversation. Copyright Linda Nylind.

We're treated to Gursky's early, simpler works where he captured a swimming pool party, and people climbing a mountain from far away. It's great to see how this sense of observing from a distance has stayed with him throughout his career. He is an artist who lives the belief that you can only see the full picture when you take a step back — literally.

Solar panels stream into the distance. But is it real or fake? Copyright Linda Nylind.

There's a sense of play evident when we look at a massive grey work and strain our eyes to see tiny people — after all, this is Gursky and we expect this to be a zoomed out image of something massive. Once we discover we're looking at a zoomed in view of a carpet, we can't help but smile at how we've been fooled — clearly we should have taken a step back ourselves.  

Turner gets the Gursky treatment with a comparison of the ordered hand with the fluid brushstrokes. Copyright Linda Nylind.

Gursky holds the record for the most expensive photograph ever sold and it's on display here. It's a section of the river Rhine that looks completely indistinct with grassy banks and a grey sky overhead. A coal station on the opposite bank has been edited out to ensure a minimalist vision that feels like an abstract painting. By stripping nature back to the bare minimum it's a thoughtful musing on the state of our environment.

Some of his kitschy later works have snuck in here, such as one of Iron Man in front of a beach sunset. Thankfully there aren't many of these recent works here to detract from what is overall an excellent show. Gursky has largely stuck to one theme throughout his career but the variety of subject matter in his photography is impressive and it's great to lose ourselves in each work trying to spot all the little details he manages to capture.

The Gusrky's under the new skylight in the upstairs galleries. Copyright Linda Nylind.

A final note for architecture buffs is that the Hayward Gallery remains largely unchanged and the only noticeable changes from before are a new skylight and the new floors. For anyone expecting a radically different looking gallery they will be disappointed, though luckily the exhibition itself does not disappoint.

Andreas Gursky is on at Hayward Gallery until 22 April 2018. Tickets are £16 for adults.

Last Updated 25 January 2018