Art openings in London: Andreas Gursky at The Hayward Gallery

Closed for three years, the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank has recently reopened with a massive retrospective of German photographer Andreas Gursky’s work.

Wandering through the well-lit rectilinear chambers of the Hayward’s new photographic exhibition, one is struck by the squareness of everything. There is almost nothing out of shape. All is rectangle, square, perpendicular and orthogonal. The curving concrete staircase ascending like a fireman’s pole through the central axis of the two floors only adds to this impression through its starkness. But peering into the tempting scenes of Gursky’s work, it is easy to forget you’re in a gallery at all. It’s an experience more akin to sitting on top a flag pole and looking at the world below you with a periscope.

Andreas Gurksy was one of the Düsseldorf School of photographers. His fascinating oeuvre vacillates in content over the decades of his practice, but it is always informed by a particular way of seeing, a mise-en-scène that he glosses on to the world with an elegant eye and a keen nose for the surreality of recognisable events. His photograph of the Hong Kong stock exchange, for instance, exudes movement and interaction in its interrupted monotones, but it is a moment fixed in time. The stillness of the photograph is the jumping-off point for the movement of the vision. What is stationary evokes total and complex movement. This is the kind of paradox which Gursky loves to play with.

A little dear at around £15 a pop, some might complain, but you certainly get bang for your buck here. The canvasses are so large it is impossible, on leaving a room of four or five of them, that there can exist any more. Such is the work that goes in to them (Gursky’s practice is a painstaking, lengthy process of digital image alteration) that their sheer number is a wonder all of its own. From the youthful nature-inspired efforts of the first room through to the bizarre, epic, doom-laden monoliths of the last, this retrospective leaves you tired out and wanting more.


It was interesting to see so many people attracted to such diverse images. One often finds crowds around the few most well-known artworks in retrospectives such as this, but here the hundreds of people were spread out evenly between starkly different subjects. This is a testament to the applicability of Gursky’s process and his way of seeing on the wide range of human enterprise. There was something for everyone.

One criticism that might be levelled at the photographer is that his work has the tendency to pretend a sociopolitical criticism which it doesn’t quite fulfil. Looking at images, for instance, of Formula 1 tracks in an arid desert or hectares of lush countryside filled to the brim with solar panels, it would be easy to be annoyed at the triteness of the work. But this initial impression is overhauled by gazing into the fertile scenes for any amount of time. It isn’t just what he chooses to focus his lens on, it’s the sheer competence of his photographical ability coupled with a penetrating eye for the sublime.

This is an exhibition not to be missed. Don't be put off by the price - get down to the Hayward and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.

Andreas Gursky at The Hayward Gallery runs until 22nd April. The Hayward is open every day from 11am except Tuesdays, when the gallery is closed.