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Andreas Gursky at MAST : an Insight into Visual Spaces of Today. And Two Anniversaries


Getting to MAST always offers unique visual emotions. A stone’s throw from a jewel of hydraulic engineering, the Casalecchio Dam on the Reno river, the MAST Foundation welcomes you with the ever-changing reflections on the mirrored surface of the Reach sculpture by Anish Kapoor. Almost as if it were a kind of fascinating and exceptional referral to what takes place in the exhibition spaces, which host Andreas Gursky‘s intriguing images, so real and yet impossible at the same time.

The year 2023 is a special one for the institution, as it marks a dual anniversary celebration: 10 years of Fondazione MAST and 100 years of the G.D Company.

Visitors to the exhibition Andreas Gursky. Visual Spaces of Today, his first anthological in Italy, are instantly overwhelmed by his images, caught up in atmospheres that change from image to image (Gursky works per single shots rather than series) while looking at his gigantic tableaux, which contributed to a major turning point in photography. One can feel very small in front of these large large-scale images: they redefine the space confronting us as viewers. They challenge us while inviting us to get closer and visually engage with them, looking for relations and new meanings. As Gursky points out, “the spaces of the MAST are among the few where his images manage to dialogue with each other, providing further levels of interpretation”. The call is for experiencing, for an insight into different quests through the visual spaces Gursky creates (that’s the proper word). On show, there are some forty images by the German artist, dating from 1989 to 2022, he selected especially for the event, echoing the thematic words of MAST, which stands for Manifattura di Arti, Sperimentazione e Tecnologia (Art, Experience and Technology).

Curator Urs Stahel explains: “Gursky managed to innovate photography since the late 1980s. Besides being a successful artist, he is somehow a brand that has stood for “large-scale photography” (which help us frame the contemporary landscape and define our experience of the world), for “photography and art,” for record auction prices (a record-breaking 4.3 million dollars for his work Rhein II in 2011, remained unsurpassed for the next eleven years), and, with that, for a new era of photography: photography in art museums and art collections”. In contrast to the minimalism and conceptualism of the 1960s and 1970s, the art theory was then talking about the “image turn,” the “pictorial turn” of the 1980s”.

L’Oeil asks Andreas Gursky where his passion for photography comes from; “I was born into a family of photographers: both my grandfather, a portrait photographer, and my father, a successful advertising photographer, were. But I have a different approach”, he answers. Gursky emphasises details, eliminates some, re-iterates others to compose images that are actually texts, using a visual language that makes use of alliteration, metaphor, repetition, underlining. In short, what is normal in written communication and, indeed, essential for an effective understanding of the message. As it is in music.

“You compose images”, Urs Stahel says addressing Gursky, who answers: “I do intervene on reality – it is a visual intervention – because there are always moments of reflection after the shot. So, in Rhein II, 1990, walking along the riverbank, I spotted the Rhine as a continuous wall, like a ribbon. I identified this subject. I would create sharper points (such as the foreground), the water is from another shot, and I removed the buildings in the background because this was functional to visually render the impressiveness of the river. This is equivalent, according to the curator, to dilating in time what is fixed in place, abstracting from the specific to the universal, constructing a montage of multiple photographs to form images that strikes the viewer as familiar and normal, and even photographically true”.

Andreas Gursky invents new spaces from existing elements by juxtaposing several frames and constructing hyper-focalised scenes that emphasise neither the foreground nor the background. This process allows him to achieve better definition in his large-format photographs, as well as a sharper focus on an invented world in which, however, the image is immediately recognisable to the viewer as a photographic landscape. Referring to Bahrain I, 2005, Gursky says: “My works are very real, and at the same time composed, but not completely imaginary. The racetrack in Bahrain is made of concrete onto which a new circuit is painted for every race”. This is what makes the overall view bizarre. They are fragments of reality, though connected thanks to a montage of the photos he shot during two helicopter rides. The result is a media-generated hyper-reality in which it’s quite difficult to distinguish between authenticity and simulation (questioning the veracity statute of photography ahead of its time).

Gursky attended the Folkwang Schule in Essen under Otto Steinert’s ideas and at the Düsseldorfer Akademie under Bernd and Hilla Becher, getting in contact with the subjective photography as well as with an objective vision, though developing a personal visual and conceptual approach. He tries to represent situations, highlighting the underlying structures and recurrent signs of global cohabitation, production, action, and order, by visually combining several details and by condensing somehow symbolic images. “I am never interested in the individual, but in the human species and its environment”, he is used to say. Perhaps with a touch of the fantastic and the scientific, as in Kamiokande, 2007, that embraces and overwhelms when we face it. It’s the Super-Kamioka Neutrino Detection Experiment scientific site in Japan, in a former mine, 1,000 m underground. “The site is usually full of water; in this case, it had been drained and a poetic moment had been created to analyse the super sensitive sensors. I had to reconstruct the situation: I shot the site dry, then with water and afterwards I added the inflatables, but according to the model. The picture, therefore, tends towards the real situation. The inflatables are the key, making it a non-technical photo, with a kind of romantic musicality” Gursky explains. Gursky’s landscapes are not untouched. His images reflect human action and our behaviour on the planet. Like in Salinas, 2021, which, according to the author, “takes us back to the ancient. But the wake above makes us return to the contemporary. This image speaks to us of the fantastic quality of water and the collaboration between man and nature”.

The exhibition, curated by Urs Stahel together with Andreas Gursky, is accompanied by a catalogue published by Fondazione MAST, with a foreword by President Isabella Seràgnoli and a critical essay by Urs Stahel.  Some copies of the poster Bahrain I (a limited edition numbered and signed by the artist) were available on sale for €150 at MAST.Point. the proceeds will be donated to the populations of the Region affected by the floods, as Fondazione MAST, in agreement with Andreas Gursky, participates in the fundraising campaign “Un aiuto per l’Emilia-Romagna” by Agenzia per la Sicurezza territoriale e Protezione civile dell’Emilia-Romagna.

Lastly, note on your calendar that in Autumn Fondazione MAST will produce in Bologna the sixth edition of Foto/Industria, the iconic international photography biennial dedicated to industry and work.


The anniversaries: 10 + 100

The exhibition Andreas Gursky. Visual Spaces of Today marks a dual anniversary celebration: 10 years of Fondazione MAST and 100 years of the G.D Company, specialised in industrial solutions. And, as President Isabella Seràgnoli points out, “To best summarise, we chose a concept that binds the two organizations together: ‘Making work a culture and culture a work’. It describes the long-time, consolidated corporate culture of the company, as well as the innovative and inclusive space created to generate thought on the topic of work”.

Fondazione MAST is an international, philanthropic, and cultural institution based on Technology, Art and Innovation. It opened in Bologna in 2013 and is located in a multifunctional space next to the headquarters of the Coesia industrial group. Conceived as a link between the company and the community, MAST is a cultural centre open to participation and collaboration, where everyone can access learning, arts, and photography. Its Galleries host temporary exhibitions on industry and work. Since its foundation, photography has been a preferred medium for MAST to address the cultural challenges of today and to give shape to the ongoing and extremely rapid changes of our times.

And the exhibition by Gursky is in perfect tune, because, as Isabella Seràgnoli explains, “his visual themes focus on global capitalism by documenting production plants, storage and transportation hubs, banks or stock exchanges, energy and food industry, consumer goods on display, transit zones, and much more, to open our eyes on the world of work, economy, and globalisation”.


Andreas Gursky. Visual Spaces of Today
May 25, 2023 – January 7, 2024
via Speranza, 42
40133 Bologna

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