As I entered Mason’s Yard at 6:30 PM last Thursday, the cobbled square was already packed with youthful hipsters sipping beer under a green vinyl tarp. Do these revelers ever even make it into the gallery, I wondered? I navigated through the crowd and into White Cube’s latest annex, where all three levels had been given over to eleven of photographer Andreas Gursky’s new works—more than five thousand square feet of pure spectacle. But technically, this was only half of the show—Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers’s new Grafton Street gallery (officially opening that night) was hosting the rest. So when White Cube impresario Jay Jopling showed up on the scene at 7 PM, I wanted to know how the goods had been divvied up. “Andreas decided” was Jopling’s diplomatic reply, though, given the artist’s clout, bolstered by his success last month at Sotheby’s London (his 99 Cent II Diptychon, 2001, went for $3.3 million—a tad ironic given the content—making it the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction), this seemed not an unbelievable answer.
I found Sotheby’s Francis Outred stationed before Kamiokande, 2007, a wall of gold baubles (really neutrino detectors reflecting off an underground lake in Japan), the work he identified as the most salable piece of the lot. On the strength of this new show, Outred remarked that he “can’t see anything other than a positive impact on the Gursky market,” at which point Jopling cut through the crowd with the artist, into the steel elevators, and up to who knows where.
The scene at White Cube had been a little overwhelming, and after a short walk across Piccadilly and into Mayfair to Sprüth-Magers, the cheerful storefront windows and old-timey woodworked sign of Gursky’s German hosts were beacons of reassurance. The charming street-level gallery was packed—thankfully, the waiters circling with trays laden with flutes of Moët were nimble enough to dodge elbows. Three stunning photographs rounded out the two-venue affair, including an elegant photograph of a Bahrain racetrack.
Monika Sprüth confirmed that “Andreas Gursky had decided” on which gallery got what. Having worked with him since the ’80s, Sprüth, now “his oldest dealer,” sees great progress in this latest work. Her favorite was the “F1 Boxenstopp” (F1 Pit Crew) series—“exquisite lighting, like Caravaggios.” I watched one woman, wearing a ludicrous green-tweed trouser suit topped off with a bright orange cap, investigate the crowds, hugging each switchback of Tour de France I, 2007, with an illuminated magnifying glass. (I used the Sherlock Holmes incident as my opener with the artist later on at dinner. Gursky seemed pleased: “My work holds up even at the microscopic level.”)
Sprüth-Magers director Andrew Silewicz recalled Gursky’s 1996 solo show at Victoria Miro. “We had barely thirty people at the opening, and nobody was interested in the work.” But just over a decade later, it’s clearly a different story, with the Gursky exhibition team from Haus der Kunst reporting record crowds at the big Munich show, and two West End galleries packed to capacity. With five thousand visitors last Sunday, apparently “it’s getting a little hard on the guards” in Germany.
At nine, I made my way to the Berkeley Hotel, where the two galleries pooled efforts to host a seated dinner for 150. The three hosts held court at the center table, where I also found Haus der Kunst director Chris Dercon. He was thrilled with the success of the Munich show and eager to “reinject the work into unexpected sites” when the show tours to Istanbul and Sharjah. Jopling, clearly head over heels, made a toast, admitting that he had “wanted to work with Gursky for a very long time“ and ”admired him because he’s a man that gets what he wants.” I was unsure whether we were talking about the dealer or the artist.
During coffee, Rupert Meaker, owner of Aura nightclub, visited each table to whisper the password for the after-party—“Gursky.” Tricky! A less shrewd gatekeeper would have gone for the obvious Ruff or Struth. Soon almost every guest was hailing “Aura on Saint James street, please”; bottles of Grey Goose packed in ice were ready at each table. Having heard about the extravagant rave at Gursky’s Haus der Kunst opening last month, I had some idea of what to expect. Legendary German DJ Sven Väth, a longtime pal of Gursky’s, didn’t kick off his set until well after midnight, and as his music peaked toward 3 AM, the guest of honor looked to be completely in his element, dancing with everyone. Spotting me in the crowd, Silewicz shouted over the music: “Every opening should be like this!”