Rhein II ... Andreas Gursky
All across the Wonderful Worldwide Web, folks are talking about the new record holder for most expensive photograph and it's now this one, Rhein II by Andreas Gursky, which sold at Christie's for somewhere north of $4.3 Million! Some of these folks are incensed, shocked, appalled, disgusted I tell you! Count me among those who are amused . . . and proud!
I like this photograph . . . because it reminds me of me! Or at least of some of my pictures made as experiments in the laconic mode of contemporary photography. One of those, Mustang 14, I blogged here. (It's also on the front page of this website.) Well, hell, here it is:
I think mine is better, more interesting, exploring the idea of a wave, of the beach, of being in the water and out of it at the same time. And mine's title has a number in it like Gursky's! (Note to self: use Roman numerals, not Arabic, you dummy!)
Mustang 14, of course, is more dynamic, more concerned with motion, though, and therefore a very different animal from the intentionally static Rhein II.
But I like the Gursky as well. For me, it turns away from the usual idea of a river, the usual teutonic grandeur of river views, laying down a series of parallel, contrasting-but-repeating fields like a kind of grid, maybe a field painting, like something created by a machine (Gursky's assistant's computer, for example). It asks questions of the viewer about what rivers look like, what they're for and how they are usually represented in art. Note the path or road in the foreground as well, asking further questions about the nexus of man-made and natural (is the Rhein an act of nature? Still?), modes of transport, means of representation. Raising those issues, at a large scale (Rhein II is something like 6 feet x 12 feet), makes the picture interesting, worth staring at. I would like to see it in the flesh and I bet I would buy it for a few thousand and enjoy the hell out of its great bigness for a few years, then sell it to someone else, for a big fat profit!
But $4.3 million? The fact that it is, for the time being, the most expensive and therefore the most "valuable" "photo" in the world has little to do with all that art apprec talk. We're talking here about an art "market." It really goes without saying (although I'm going to go ahead and say it) that markets, whether in art, dutch tulips or collateralized debt securities, are driven by (weird or crazy or both) rich people and by notions of "value" that appear to be insane from outside that market. Mike Johnston summarized some of the market aspects pretty well: status, plus rarity, plus wealth inequality.
Don't worry, photographers, be happy. It is a good thing that photography is well-enough recognized as art nowadays to command stupid prices!
Now, anybody wanna make me an offer on Mustang 14? (Actually, it was already bought by an incredibly insightful and astute buyer in Dallas who prefers to remain anonymous. Right Susan?)