An example from this edition was sold in Phillips, New York, on 13 November 2000, lot 11, for $211,500, breaking the world auction record at the time for a work by the artist.
As the only son of a commercial photographer, Andreas Gursky was brought up seeing photography in which the camera lied for a livelihood. Although later creating for himself an ultra-objective photographic idiom under the tutelage of Bernd and Hilla Becher, his works from the past decade have shown an increasing interest in tampering with, adjusting and editing his images, returning to some extent to his roots. Hong Kong Stock Exchange II appears as a strange fusion of these two extremes, objective yet subjective. The viewer sees the trade floor stretching out like a landscape, the traders reduced to ant-like figures, making this appear like an almost scientific, sociological image, a distant, unjudging image of their world that has all the hallmarks of being the ultimate objective gaze. However, Gursky himself has pointed out that:
"Since 1992 I have consciously made use of the possibilities offered by electronic picture processing, so as to emphasize 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 realize." (A. Gursky, in: L. Cooke, 'Andreas Gursky: Visionary (Per)Versions', pp.13-16, Andreas Gursky. Photographs from 1984 to the Present, ed. M.L. Syring, exh. cat., Munich 1998, p.14.)
The amount of selection, of decision-making, involved in this process necessarily makes it subjective - more allied to the photography practiced by Gursky's father. Gursky has not only had to learn new techniques, he has had to adopt an entirely new standpoint, both regarding the techniques and the implications of his art. The increasing amount of artistic interference means that this apparently objective view is in actual fact a construct, assembled by Gursky not as recorder of reality but as artist, the digital techniques his new palette, the original image his canvas.
This process itself has ramifications on the choices of subject matter as well. Gursky, especially during the 1990s, began to roam the world seeking out views and images that in some sense represented the age in which we live. The various stock exchanges that he has visited and photographed reflect this interest, as well as other images of modern buildings, races and raves. The monumental scale Gursky often uses to show these views has a strange dual effect. On the one hand, they increase the distance between viewer and subject, with humans appearing microbe-like under his cold microscope, an effect heightened by the strange geometry of Hong Kong Stock Exchange II. The cool mathematics of the dwarfing structure makes this view appear scientific, not human. Indeed, this effect is heightened by the strangeness of the small figures. The arcane transactions that are taking place in the stock exchange, with invisible millions flying around, are made infinitely strange and surreal by this still view. The layout of the room, like some key diagram of existence with the cool heavens above the red floor, the people milling in the middle, add an almost religious air to this work. Indeed, the raised platform at the centre of the room almost makes the traders appear as the worshippers of an unknown god. Perhaps Gursky is even straying into the realm of social commentary, showing the stock exchange as a temple dedicated to Mammon himself.
In an extension of this sense in Gursky's pictures, they also hearken back to the German Romantic tradition, a feeling reinforced by their horizontality. Hong Kong Stock Exchange II stretches out before the viewer like some strange, modern wilderness. We are transposed, reacting to the image in a manner reminiscent of the mysterious figure in some of the landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. We are the Everyman, looking out onto a scene that appears, in its detachment, to make little sense. The zeitgeist therefore becomes a terrifying concept. However, the word 'wondrous' may be more appropriate - the viewer is shown such a bright, bustling image of the harsh world of abstract finance that it becomes a subjective revelation. Hong Kong Stock Exchange II is a celebration of the world we inhabit, a monument to the modern.