Why Didn't I?

Friday, May 21, 2010

In the “why didn’t I think of that?” category – Andreas Gursky’s latest work, which just finished showing at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, presented blow-ups of the world’s oceans printed as large as 100 x 140 inches.

Gursky had not taken these pictures himself. They were satellite pictures of the earth that the artist had worked on and cropped to make the ocean the central point of the composition. But interestingly, he now joins his compatriot Thomas Ruff (and numerous others) in making appropriation his new methodology.

The Gagosian Gallery cleverly obfuscated the point in their press release:

In the new Ocean series, Gursky has for the first time relinquished his position behind the camera to work with satellite images of the world as his raw material, creating contemporary mappe del mondo on a scale befitting the cosmic grandeur of the subject. In their darkly nuanced surfaces, he has worked to reconcile the division between the machine eye and the human eye, continuing the debates and practices begun in the nineteenth century regarding photography and the issue of artistic expression versus objective science.

However it does nothing but underscore the fact that so many people are Warhol’s children.

Today, The New York Times reported that the Los Angeles County Museum had acquired four of the pictures.

They were as sublime as the Rothko Chapel,” Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said, referring to the Houston landmark. “They are also satellite photography, which is a breakthrough for the artist.”

Mr. Govan was so taken with the suite of works that he persuaded two trustees — Steven F. Roth, executive vice president of the World Oil Corporation, a family-owned company in Los Angeles, and another trustee who wants to remain anonymous — to buy four of them for the museum. Mr. Govan declined to say what they paid. The gallery was asking $680,000 each.

Although this series was created before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill this spring, Mr. Govan said he considered the subject of oceans “a total obsession of our age,” adding, “It’s so urgent, yet there is a timelessness to these photographs.”

He also said that he was reminded of a historical precedent. Just as 19th-century museums often had a globe of the world and a map of the stars as the linchpin of their displays, these photographs, he said, are the 21st-century equivalent. “This is our globe,” Mr. Govan said.

The museum does not have a specific space to show the Gursky images at the moment. However, Mr. Govan said he planned to have a space designed for them in the middle of its historical collection.

“They will be the centerpiece of our global museum,” Mr. Govan explained. And though the works show only tiny bits of continents and coastline, he added, to him, anyway, “the museum itself becomes the rest of the picture.”

So ... $680,000 x 4. There was obviously a big discount. But still, not bad for reprinting someone else’s pictures. One part of me feels this is out of whack, but another part sees the power and quality of the work. As always, the point is - I didn’t think of it (and neither did you)!

Click on this image for greater detail.


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