Important Art by Andreas Gursky
Gas Cooker (1980) is Andreas Gursky's first published photograph, depicting the lit gas stove in his Düsseldorf home. His consideration of form and texture in the piece reflects the burgeoning development of his signature style. Like his landscapes and interiors, he approaches the stove from a high vantage point in a way that is slightly unusual for the viewer. His choice of even light and a deadpan presentation of the scene emphasizes the milky fields of monotone color and causes the viewer to notice the geometry of squares, rectangles, and line within an otherwise ordinary, everyday object made further delightful by the circular rings of fire.
This image exists both in contrast and preface to the later work he is most known for. Gursky's mature work deals with globalism and capitalism in contemporary society, but this image was conceived from individual experience while cooking when "after a while I saw it as an image." Although this early photograph was not made upon complete impulse, his later work relies on extensive research and logistical planning. Gas Cooker is also one of his most 'simple' images as is a still life with a single object-as-subject instead of a scene exploring how the chosen subject interacts within its environment.
Although Gas Cooker may appear different than Gursky's later works, upon examination one can see a consistency of approach that weaves through his oeuvre.
May Day II depicts a crowd of people during a concert at Mayday, the oldest and most renowned German electronic music festival that draws thousands of people every year. This image is one in a series of photographs taken at various May Day festivals the Gursky created from 1997 through 2006. Gursky has a great passion for the electronic music scene.
Upon first glimpse, the piece resembles a painting as dots of yellow light swarm in from the right of the frame to illuminate a strip of the crowd while the rest of the frame remains in pitch-black darkness. By shooting from his signature perspective of elevated distance, Gursky first delivers to the viewer a scene of color juxtaposition and distinct fields of color, withholding actual clues about the true reality of the event and its participants. Instead, in true character, he fosters an (initially) aesthetic and atmospheric experience, which similarly mirrors the act of observing a concert. It provides the experience of an international community in a public space and showcases Gursky's love of capturing vast spaces frequented by the human species.
This enormous photograph (over 6 by 11 feet) depicts the interior of a Ninety-Nine Cent store in Los Angeles. The shelves are filled with stacks of mass produced and widely recognizable branded items such as Kit Kat Bars, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Colgate toothpaste, all sold below their normal market value. Six white poles in the middle and background break up the sea of color, moving the viewer's eye throughout the space and calling attention to the ".99 Cent Only" posters on the walls. As the assault of color dissipates the viewer discovers the presence of shoppers walking among the aisles.
Gursky says 99 Cent was inspired by an experience on his first trip to Los Angeles when he became "directly fascinated" by a dollar store window while driving at night. The result is this immersive and beautifully composed scene, in which he lends a critical eye to issues of manufacture and exchange. His manipulation of perspective combined with the reflection of merchandise in the mirrored ceiling radiates a sense of claustrophobia and forces the viewer to confront the details of an overwhelming number of brightly packaged objects. The piece is a great example of Gursky's use of parts to inform a whole, relying on the exorbitant amount of boxed products to inform the overall composition through both color and form and compiling a message about human beings' role in consumerism.
In 2001, he made a related piece, 99 Cent II, Diptych of two Ninety-Nine Cent store interiors. The layout and color palate of these interiors are so similar to each other and to those of this photograph that they could be the same store. Although the products displayed on shelves are different, the repetition of the architecture, color and signs shows little change in terms of the mass production and marketing in the years between the two.