New York

Andreas Gursky

Do Andreas Gursky’s photos estheticize the banal? And is this nauseating decadence or is it actually interesting? Yes, these images really capture boredom, at business, at leisure, but mostly in between. “Genoa” is a parking lot, where you get a glimpse of some ships in the background but mostly see the rear ends of autos packed with vacation gear. What he captures here, like an eternity, is that tourist feeling you get when you’re waiting for the rush that you’re “there”—but you’re stuck in some lackluster intermediary place like a parking lot or charmless café. Only the place-name remains, “Genoa,” as if mocking your tourist enterprise by reminding you that you’re “there”—and it’s a parking lot. “Salerno” is a parking lot, too, full of Fiats, almost all of them white. At the “St. Moritz Restaurant,” we see many people at tables that could be anywhere; the upper half of the image is a blank sky starkly striped with vertical poles. At “Karlsruhe” we see the inside of a Siemens factory, rigged like some kind of geometrized digestive tract. At “Gelsenkirchen,” humans swarm insectlike in a concrete modernistic swimming facility, rendered tiny by the aerial point of view. In Tokyo at the Bourse, they also swarm, in black suits, again rendered tiny by the aerial vantage point.

Baudelaire invented spleen to account for those stretches of dead time and space that monopolize your perceptual apparatus and fail to engage your attention. Apart from staying home, what is more splenetogenic than travel? It’s significant that this show presents images from what seems to be an abridged travelogue: Genoa, St. Moritz, Tokyo, Gelsenkirchen, etc. Gursky goes many places to come up with images of pristine banality. Photography wasn’t always splenetic but now it is. Gursky presents highlights (or rather anticlimaxes) from the spleen world. It looks back at us in a familiar way like scenes from shows that you’d never watch but nevertheless find yourself staring at late at night on TV when you don’t have cable and you’re switching channels. Somewhere between sleep and consciousness you’re looking for something—with neither hope nor commitment. It’s fabulous to see this feeling reflected in the art object.

Rather than functioning as some kind, of fascistic wallow in the apathy and/or the schadenfreude of the art person when faced with the normal and dull, Gursky’s presentation of characterless environments, objects, and persons can also reassure us. He offers an antidote to the anxious snapshot esthetic of say, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was always on the prowl for that special cathartic moment—against which your life inevitably would fall short and flat. In the world according to Gursky, you feel like you’re not missing out on anything. Because the photo, traditionally implying that which is worth looking at, out “there,” is a distinct nonevent. Reflecting a world made flat and/or clinical, by TV, among other things, he presents sites of frenetic activity and/or ennui with similar formal care, in this way symptomatizing the post-Pop esthetic of anesthesia, which enables us to say “This is so sterile. I love it.” That could strike you as (a) scary, or (b) pathetic. Both of which, as esthetic responses, do not make things less beautiful.

Rhonda Lieberman