‘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 photographs of 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’ (A. Ohlin, ‘Andreas Gursky and the Contemporary Sublime’, in Art Journal, vol. 61, no. 4, Winter 2002, p. 24).
Andreas Gursky’s Hong Kong Börse II captures the fevered energy of the trading floor. Executed in 1995, Hong Kong Börse 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.
Executed on a monumental scale, the multitude of distinct hubs of activity in Hong Kong Börse II compels the viewer to scrutinise every detail. Inviting the viewer through a central corridor, the composition divides itself, leading to the very heart of the stock exchange where traders clad in brilliant claret smocks jostle. Offering a view into a world which few have the privilege to see, this extraordinary spectacle is achieved through Gursky’s God-like perspective which tips the composition forward at an impossible angle. 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.
Picking out the chromatic tones, the viewer subconsciously senses the chromatic links in an overarching system that knits the whole picture together, transforming the bustling individuals 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 documentary-like 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 Börse II remains an accurate expression of both the overarching systems of commerce and its power over the individual.