'Behind Gursky's taste for the imposing clarity of unbroken parallel forms spanning a slender rectangle, for example lies a rich inheritance of reductive aesthetics, from Friedrich to Newman to Richter to Donald Judd. Friedrich's celebration of God's limitless horizon is literally turned upside down in Richter's iconic homage; Newman's bare embodiment of the absolute is recast by Judd in the materials of modern industry and commerce, so that the solemn majesty of infinite progression is set forth in the anesthetic repetitions of the assembly line and the display case.'
(P. Galassi, "Gursky's World", Andreas Gursky, New York 2001, p. 35).
Gleaming with spiritual beauty, the monumental scale, sublime composition and majestic aura of Andreas Gursky's Untitled V makes this work one of his most powerful and arresting images. Based on the interior of a luxury goods store, the work is a triumphal examination of consumer culture and the nature of global trade. Its strong architectural lines, muted, meditative lighting and rows of sport's shoes displayed like sparkling religious icons produces an almost sacred experience. Through Gursky's lens consumerism has become the new spiritual pursuit of modern times. Works such as Untitled V mark Gursky out as the pre-eminent photographer of the contemporary world. He focuses his lens on every aspect of living and working in today's modern society and in doing so has transformed the way we look at the world.
With his signature style, Gursky has given us a new vocabulary with which to comprehend the enormous impact, both positive and negative, of globalisation. The cool, crisp lines punctuated only by the brightly coloured footwear, are testimony to the enduring influence and Minimalism and to the work of Donald Judd in particular, whose transformation of what Peter Galassi has called "the solemn majesty of infinite progression (...) into the anesthetic repetitions of the assembly line and the display case" has a particular significance here (P. Galassi (ed.), Andreas Gursky New York 2001, p. 35).
Like Gursky's other monumental work 99 Cent, Untitled V presents rows of multi-coloured objects, set like jewels against a monochromatic background. However, where 99 Cent presents the ubiquitous nature of global consumerism by depicting shelf upon shelf groaning under the weight of goods, Untitled V, highlights the festishisation of the luxury goods market by singling out each item as an object of desire. In this respect, Gursky is clearly following in the grand tradition of Andy Warhol, who's Campbell's SoupCans marked the beginning of this adoration that characterised this new era of high consumerism. Both 99 Cent and Untitled V demonstrate Gursky's ability to render each individual object with an infinite amount of detail while retaining the overall compositional integrity of such monumental works.
In the case of Untitled V the strong compositional integrity of the work emphasizes the ubiquitous nature of the sport shoe during the 1990s when it had risen to become one of the most prominent symbols of popular culture. Due in large part to the constant promotion and advertising by the multinational brands, the sports shoe became a symbol of tribal identity for millions of teenagers around the globe and consequently became one of the most fetishised of all consumer objects.
Gursky travels the globe in his quest to depict the human experience and the human environment, chronicling it with his iconic images. His international itinerary has taken him to such diverse countries, cities and cultures as Hong Kong, Cairo, Paris and North Korea, photographing a range of settings from local sites where people relax during their time off to the enormous industrial complexes where humanity is increasingly spending much of its time in this post-industrial world. Executed in 1997, Untitled V may display no overt human presence, yet there is the same implication of commerce and, in the presence of the shoes, of movement. Indeed, as fetishised objects of beauty, these shoes have been presented and lit as though they were art objects, Gursky creates an intriguing parallel to his photographs of public art galleries from the same period.
This rigid regularity and formality of the display is heightened by Gursky's powerful use of frontal perspective. For this particular series he has abandoned the almost bird's eye view of some of his other works, including his earlier Chicago Board of Trade and his images of the spectacular Arirang Festival in North Korea. By contrast, the construction of this interior shot means that the subject nonetheless fills the immense picture surface. Similar to Barnett Newman's Zip paintings, Gursky's works reward the viewer by examining them close up. In close proximity the scale of the work washes over the senses, overriding the minimal aesthetic of the composition. Gursky has accentuated the formality of the display through digital means as well, extending the shelves in order to increase the impact of the composition's horizontality. In the late 1990s, Gursky began to doctor his pictures digitally, largely to eliminate anecdotal detail and accentuate the underlying formal structure. However, unlike most artists working with computers, he still makes colour prints from celluloid negatives, and as a result, his images retain crystalline definition, minuscule grain and high-gloss sheen. This rigorous adherence to the conventions of documentary photography, that is a flawless technique and a dispassionate treatment of subject matter, was made famous by artists like Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gursky's mentors at the Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf.
As well as the Bechers, Gursky draws on a rich tradition of varied sources to help him in the realization of his images. While minimalism clearly places a pivotal role, there is also an opulent painterly quality to much of his work. By skillfully combining these seemingly contradictory qualities, he arrives at his unique form of visual expression. 'Behind Gursky's taste for the imposing clarity of unbroken parallel forms spanning a slender rectangle, for example lies a rich inheritance of reductive aesthetics, from Friedrich to Newman to Richter to Donald Judd' (P. Galassi, "Gursky's World", Andreas Gursky, New York 2001, p. 35).
Untitled V successfully melds together three distinct forms of artistic expression - photography, sculpture and painting. The inspiration is sculptural, the image is painterly and the medium used to combine these is photographic. The scale of the work allows for the photographic print to approach the physical power and impact of sculpture. Gursky asserts a new position for the discipline within its historic relationship with the other arts. Through his use of multiple negatives and digital technology, Gursky can produce photographs that exceed reality in intensity, perspective and scope. Freeing the practice from its traditional limits, Gursky has posited that the photographer be afforded same freedom as a painter or sculptor in constructing worlds.