Monday, November 14, 2011

The world's most expensive photograph

Rhein II by Andreas Gursky, $4.3 million.

Or you can click the picture for the full-sized file, set it for your desktop background, and enjoy much the same experience as the new owner.

It's nice enough -- life imitating Rothko (though a light mist would help there) -- and I suppose "the Rhine" is almost intrinsically a political topic, so you can read some of that into it (the two banks seem functionally identical). But $4M?


  1. I can't "see" it on a computer screen, but possibly might see something different if standing before an actual print. I hesitate to scoff, though: Scoffing at the "I just don't see it" level usually means just that-- failure by the observer, not by what is observed.

  2. Why doesn't it give a buyer a bit of a nervous twitch to pay $4M+ for a print by a living photographer?

    Get a photographer to explain what a limited edition is to you sometime. They don't strike through the plate or stone the way printmakers did at the end of a run (put big x's on it). They carefully archive the negative. I have had a successful art photographer tell me that his understanding of a limited edition did not mean that he couldn't just run more someday-- it just meant he was printing only that many at that time. And pay attention when you hear of something being sold as an "artists proof" sometime. How many of those were printed on top of the limited run? When were they printed?

    OTOH, I suspect from having been around Wm. Eggleston a moderate amount, his reaction would be "You can't make me cross that bridge again no matter what you do. I have been there and printed that print already so fuck off. I'm doing something else now."

  3. NMissC - I'm curious to know if there really is a market for collecting negatives or the original print file of a photograph. Are collectors paying more for the negative that Ansel Adams used for Moon Rise over Hernandez for example, or are they paying for the print that he made from the negative?? Unlike the printmaking genre of lithography for example, photography seems to be in an unusual space with making editions and destroying the original file or negative. I think that it should be clearly noted at the point of sale or auction that a photograph is a first edition or second edition, etc.

    In Gursky's case and the Rhein II....I would drop $4.3 million on something I had to have IF I had $4.3 million to throw around like it's spare change, but since I don't and most of us don't it's not worth that much to me....but it obviously was to someone, so props to Gursky.

  4. Wow! That photograph is almost 10 feet wide! You have to read the article to really appreciate what we are looking at here. Really!

    "This image is a vibrant, beautiful and memorable – I should say unforgettable - contemporary twist on Germany’s famed genre and favourite theme: the romantic landscape, and man’s relationship with nature.

    But it is more than that. For all its apparent simplicity, the photograph is a statement of dedication to its craft. The late 1980s, when Gursky shot to attention, was a time when photography was first entering gallery spaces, and photographs were taking their place alongside paintings. Photography “as art”, at the time, was still brave and new, and the simplicity of this image shows a great deal of confidence in its effectiveness and potential for creating atmospheric, hyper-real scenarios that in turn teach us to see - and read - the world around us anew. The scale, attention to colour and form of his photography can be read as a deliberate challenge to painting's status as a higher art form. On top of that, Gursky’s images are extraordinary technical accomplishments, which take months to set up in advance, and require a lot of digital doctoring to get just right."

  5. "Photography 'as art', at the time, was still brave and new"

    In the 1980s?

    I am afraid I do not at all see what you are talking about.

  6. Well, obviously, you're just a plebe.