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Hayward Open for Business: Andreas Gursky

Gurksy's 99 Cent.  © Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers.

Gurksy's 99 Cent. © Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers.


Ian Darby

Bargain hunters will enjoy German photographer Andreas Gursky’s new exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery because we’re essentially getting two shows for the price of one.

It’s not only Gursky’s first retrospective in the UK but also the reopening of the Hayward Gallery. Coinciding with its 50th birthday, the gallery is back in action after two years closure for a major renovation, described by artistic director Jude Kelly as “heart-wrenching but worthwhile.”

The Hayward, situated in the Brutalist maze of the Southbank Centre next to Waterloo Bridge, spent a large chunk of money “buying a pyramid”, says Kelly. Wider than it is tall, the new roof spans the rooms on the top floor of the gallery, ushering natural light into wide-open spaces.

Gursky, who mainly produces photography on an epic scale, is a sound choice to show off the new Hayward’s assets. During my visit, one middle-aged Gursky-lover, swathed in a huge, yellow, Canada Goose coat, and crowned with thick-framed glasses and flat cap, declared the artist to be “one of the greats of modern photography.”

And the admirer has a point. The exhibition is worth seeing to chart the developments in photography across the four decades of Gursky’s career, the latest techniques and technology in the hands of an artist documenting societal change and its impact on people. 

After the early ‘80s landscapes of the Ruhr Valley, Gursky’s work then reveals his complex use of post-production techniques, and showcases his fascination with large groups of people, in the case of May Day IV showing the masses at a German techno festival.

Ruhr Valley (Gurksy, 1989) . Courtesy of

Ruhr Valley (Gurksy, 1989). Courtesy of


The retrospective includes eight new works, the most effective being those that document North Korea. It eventually reaches the point, with 2015’s Review, a fictional scene depicting Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, alongside her three predecessors, where Gursky has moved on from documentary photography.

If you’re after an emotional kick in the guts, this exhibition isn’t for you. The majority of the large-format pictures are tightly-composed, carefully-controlled, and yet humane, building into a collection that makes a connection between people and landscape, people and work, people and technology. It’s almost well-mannered due to the element of distance that Gursky creates, but the turmoil that’s just under the surface occasionally breaks out.

Get your tickets here.