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They say a picture is worth a thousand words; this Tuesday a picture was worth $4.3 million, making it the most expensive photograph in the world. The photo is 'Rhein II' (1999) by Andreas Gursky.

Gursky is known for his large, disorienting landscapes. At once majestic and alienating, they don't require a lot of explanation. This photo is meant to be stared at.

Of his works, Gursky has explained: "Maybe to try to understand not just that we are living in a certain building or in a certain location, but to become aware that we are living on a planet that is going at enormous speed through the universe."


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It will take me a while (a long while) to take in this photograph and digest its impact. I have been a photographer and understand the craft of the thing. I very much like Rothko and the simplicity(others have written "blandness") doesn't put me off. At 3 meters long it certainly isn't intimate but I can still grasp its scale which is certainly smaller than the actual subject landscape, although size rarely "makes" a work by itself. Damien Hirst should have prepared me for celebrity art and collector groupies. There is a zen quietude about it but the gavel price is hardly subtle. Like I said, it will take time to digest it and time to work on adding some super-positives to my catalog entry. IMHO. Perhaps others here will help point the way.

Probably this photographer has a way with words, a great salesperson, is adept at convincing people.  Though you could probably say the same for a lot of artists. 

Andreas Gursky exemplified the move from photography as depiction to considering the work as art which could only be expressed with photography. It was no longer possible to compare the work to painting due to the expression of the moment in the absolute reality of photographic place and time. Gursky relies on the inherent belief in the truth of the photographic image. The size of the work emphasizes this truth and asks the viewer to consider the importance of the commonplace in everyday life.

I think Richard Misrach did this much better in his minimalist landscapes but only Gursky confronts us with the commonality of experience. The value and understanding of this one image is only complete when viewed within the framework of his entire body of work. I don't know what else was up at this auction but I suspect that this is perhaps the least complex of his images and therefore more powerful and worth the money to the purchaser as the distillation of his oeuvre. 

Pro: the tension between realism and abstract. Con: cold and alienating.

I'd agree with Tony Reynolds here about the Rothko simplicity in this photograph. The only route for the imagination to go on this one, is to slide off into the nothingness beyond its borders where Gursky picks up on a bigger picture. For me, this photo clears my must be quiet an experience, given its size out of cyber world.


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