'The subject of Gursky's work, is the contemporary locus of the sublime: a grand power in the face of which we feel our own smallness... Gursky's vast photographsof the Hong Kong stock exchange, massive ships docked at a harbour, cargo planes preparing to take off, a government building-testify to this power. Although his photographs give us images of globalization, Gursky is seeking less to document the phenomenon than to invoke the sublime in it. He freely manipulates his images, altering the architecture of the built and natural environments, creating repetitions, deepening colors, and collapsing time, in order to heighten the sense of the sublime' (A. Ohlin, 'Andreas Gursky and the Contemporary Sublime', in Art Journal, vol. 61, no. 4, Winter 2002, p. 24).
Vast and absorptive, Andreas Gursky's Hong Kong Stock Exchange II captures the fevered energy of the trading floor. Executed in 1994, Hong Kong Stock Exchange II forms part of the artist's seminal series of stock exchanges, including the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, 1994, Chicago Board of Trade, 1997, and Singapore Stock Exchange, 2007, examples of which are included in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tate, London, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, respectively. A captivating image, editions of Hong Kong Stock Exchange II form part of the Fondation Carmignac Gestion Collection, Paris, and Deutsche Börse Group Collection, Frankfurt. Further works from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange sequence are also included in international museum collections, such as Hong Kong Stock Exchange, 1994, in the collection of the Kunst Museum, Wolfsburg, and Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Diptych, 1994, housed in the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Executed on a monumental scale, the crystallised detail of Hong Kong Stock Exchange II compels the viewer to scrutinise every feature. Inviting the viewer in through a central carpeted corridor, the rectilinear composition divides itself, leading to the heart of the Stock Exchange. Offering a view into a world which few have the privilege to see, this extraordinary spectacle is achieved through Gursky's God-like perspective. The camera's high vantage point tilts the picture plane forward at an impossible angle. The artist achieved this unrealisable perspective by digitally intertwining multiple photographs into one image, before reprinting through a traditional printing process; a practice the artist discovered two years prior to Hong Kong Stock Exchange II. 'Since 1992 I have consciously made use of the possibilities offered by electronic picture processing', Gursky explained, 'so as to emphasise formal elements that will enhance the picture or, for example, to apply a picture concept that in real terms of perspective would be impossible to realise' (A. Gursky, quoted in L. Cooke, 'Andreas Gursky: Visionary (Per)Versions', Andreas Gursky. Photographs from 1984 to the Present, Munich 1998, p. 14). Carefully composed within the gridded architecture of the trading floor, Gursky creates remarkable compositional order from the frenzy of transaction. Contained within the modular geometry of the white cubicles, the traders appear like industrious bees in a hive. The bustling individuals transform into a transcendent, unified whole. Speaking of the effect of this symmetrical precision, Peter Galassi notes, 'God and Mammon are discovered to have used the same geometric template, both creators simultaneously inciting us to wonderment and excluding us utterly from their realms of protection' (P. Galassi, quoted in 'Gursky's World', Andreas Gursky, New York 2001, p. 35). Indeed, the illuminated projection above the traders evokes the same heavenly glow as a radiant heaven above the earth, adding an almost religious air to this work. The raised platform at the centre of the room situates the stock exchange as a temple, traders as worshippers at the altar of an unnamed god.
Gursky's enduring fascination with, and continual revisiting of Stock Exchanges are informed by his tutelage by Bernd Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Just as Bernd and Hilla Becher's 'Typologies' of Pre-World War II industrial architecture appear as documentarylike observations of their changing landscape, the Platonic quality of Gursky's observations can be seen as a reflection of contemporary behaviour. As the artist gained world-wide recognition in the 1990s, Gurksy's personal travels were reflected in his desire to seek out images that represented the global age in which we live. Having seen a newspaper photograph of the Tokyo stock exchange in 1990, Gursky was inspired to create his own images of the stock exchange, and it was this experience which led to the artist's celebrated series. Looking through today's lens, the viewer cannot help but reflect upon the current state of the world. The traders sit at hulking now-antiquated computers, their claret smocks dissolving into the walls of the stock exchange. While the technology situates the scene decidedly in the 1990s, Hong Kong Stock Exchange II remains an accurate expression of both the overarching systems of commerce and its power over the individual.