‘Few artists have managed to distil the specific characteristics of a certain culture, the mindset of a generation, or the zeitgeist of an era into a single work. Just as a handful of iconic paintings have shaped our view of the Renaissance, so too has Andreas Gursky captured the essence of the economic and social situation of the late twentieth century’ (N. Zimmer, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, 2007-2008, p. 69).
‘The crowds of people in his photographs of the stock exchange are all involved in the uninhibited accumulation of capital… All of them are typical of a form of human gathering that has emerged along with the turbo-capitalism of the late twentieth century’ (N. Zimmer, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, 2007-2008, pp. 83-85).
The dramatic portrayals of stock exchanges chart the progression of Andreas Gursky’s oeuvre, with Kuwait Stock Exchange I, 2007, standing as the most recent iteration from the artist’s celebrated series. In contrast to the earlier stock exchanges characterized by their outdated technology and oversized white cubicles, Gursky has captured the modernity of this sleek trading floor where virtual transactions zip by invisibly and the traders jostle appearing as ghost-like blurs. The image stands as a metaphor for the financial philosophy of an entire generation, as Kuntmuseum Basel curator Dr. Nina Zimmer identifies: ‘few artists have managed to distil the specific characteristics of a certain culture, the mindset of a generation, or the zeitgeist of an era into a single work. Just as a handful of iconic paintings have shaped our view of the Renaissance, so too has Andreas Gursky captured the essence of the economic and social situation of the late twentieth century’ (N. Zimmer, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, 2007-2008, p. 69).
Extending nearly three metres in height, the crystallised detail of Kuwait Stock Exchange I summarizes and intensifies our reality, compelling the viewer to scrutinise every feature in this hive of activity. Like a Mondrian painting, Gursky imbues balance, harmony, and remarkable compositional order to Kuwait Stock Exchange I, deftly enhancing the brilliant red framework of chairs creating circular formations throughout the composition, so that the viewer subconsciously senses the chromatic links in an overarching system that knits the whole picture together. This underlying formal regularity stems from the artist’s deep appreciation of art historical narratives and photographic reference. ‘My pictures are becoming increasingly formal and abstract,’ he stated. ‘A visual structure appears to dominate the real events shown in my pictures. I subjugate the real situation to my artistic concept of the picture...You never notice arbitrary details in my work. On a formal level, countless interrelated micro and macrostructures are woven together, determined by an overall organizational principle. A closed microcosm which, thanks to my distanced attitude towards my subject, allows the viewer to recognize the hinges that hold the system together’ (A. Gursky, quoted in L. Cooke, ‘Andreas Gursky: Visionary (Per) Versions’, in M.-L. Syring (ed.), Andreas Gursky: Photographs from 1984 to the Present, exh. cat., Munich, 1998, pp. 13-16). Employing the visual language of modernism, Gursky’s observational concerns move away from the early constraints of documentary and towards greater abstraction.
Enhanced by his compositional structure, the camera’s high vantage point creates a sense of separation and alienation, what has been referred to as Gursky’s ‘God-like view’. Gursky’s works reorder the world according to a delicately balanced tension between hyper-clarity and formal nature. The unique perspective conveys an overarching sense of order, distilling the individual elements of chaos into an overall sensation of clarity. Indeed, as Peter Galassi, curator of the artist’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, noted, the subject of the stock exchange ‘is not the trading floor glimpsed at a given moment through the eyes of a unique observer, but the identity of the whole operation, including all of its unseen machinations – not so much a particular place… as the stock market in general, as a global institution, or, further as not merely an economic institution but a model of contemporary behaviour’ (P. Galassi, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001, pp. 29-30). A perfect union of technical skill with contemporary insight, Gurksy’s photographs perform a conceptual role, providing a poignant contemporary examination of the forces of globalisation.