Andreas Gursky’s monumental New York Stock Exchange captures the fevered pandemonium of New York City’s famous trading floor. Executed in 1991, the photograph is number four in an edition of four and is part of the artist’s extensive series depicting global stock exchanges, many of which are held in the collections of international institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and Tate, London. Boisterous and excited, New York Stock Exchange thrums with activity even as the mass of traders are arrested in time, a ballet of figures illuminated by the crystalline glow of fluorescent lights. Against this dramatic staging, small details are preserved: stacks of paper scraps, the teal digits of computer code, pencils jammed into pockets. Gursky’s impossible vantagepoint, at once god-like and amidst the fray, gives the photograph a Baroque excitement echoed in the traders’ exaggerated positions and the theatrical staging of the spectacle.
The artist’s enduring fascination with stock exchanges is informed by German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, his teachers at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Just as they constructed typologies of industrial architecture, so too does Gursky present seemingly detached observations of the financial industry. However, unlike the Bechers – whose aesthetic was decidedly documentary – Gursky typically constructs his photographs from composite scenes to produce images of striking clarity that appear to transcend reality. This technique recalls 19th-century history paintings, for which artists would have united together separate figural groupings. By alluding to art history, Gursky places his photography practice in dialogue with painting, seeking show the world as it cannot be seen: ‘I am making images,’ he has said, ‘and to make an image you have to follow certain rules so that it becomes an image’ (A. Gursky quoted in L. Jobey, ‘Andreas Gursky: ‘The perfect image is not something that can be taught’, The Financial Times, 12 January 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/2d52904c-f592-11e7-88f7-5465a6ce1a00).