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b. 1955, Leipzig, Germany
Andreas Gursky was born in 1955 in Leipzig, East Germany. His family relocated to West Germany, moving to Essen and then Düsseldorf by the end of 1957. Although his parents ran a commercial photography studio, the young Gursky did not seriously consider following their career path. From 1978 to 1980 he attended the Folkwangschule, Essen. While in school, he worked as a taxi driver. After failing to find work as a photojournalist, Gursky entered the prestigious Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, in 1980 with the encouragement of Thomas Struth. After one year of foundation coursework, he studied photography with Bernd and Hilla Becher. After setting up a color darkroom with friends in 1981, he worked solely in color despite the Bechers’ preference for black and white. For his first exhibition, Gursky’s Pförtnerbilder series of 1981–85, depicting the pairs of front-desk security staff omnipresent in German office buildings, was presented at the Düsseldorf Airport in 1987. In the mid-1980s he explored juxtapositions of nature and industry in the Ruhr Valley and made sharply detailed photographs of groups of people engaged in leisure activities out in the landscape. Gursky received his diploma in 1987.
Gursky’s first solo gallery show was held at Galerie Johnen & Schöttle, Cologne, in 1988. A solo museum exhibition followed the next year, at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld. The booming international art market, including a growing taste for photography and interest in the Bechers’ circle, helped bring Gursky commercial success. In the 1990s he traveled internationally to such cities as Tokyo, Cairo, Hong Kong, Stockholm, Singapore, and Los Angeles, often planning out his shoots of buildings, factories, hotels, and office buildings in advance of his arrival. In 1991–93 he photographed Siemens manufacturing plants at the company’s invitation, juxtaposing technology, people, and their environment.
From about 1988 Gursky increased the size of his photographs, which he had printed by a commercial lab. In the 1990s he used the largest size of photographic paper on the market; by 2000 he was combining sheets to produce images larger than six by fifteen feet. It was at this time that Gursky also began to use digital technology for retouching and for altering his negatives. For some works, such as architectural subjects, he moved the camera between shots and then combined the negatives on the computer to make seamless, often panoramalike, images. In 2001 he finished Stockholder Meeting, which represented a new stage in his work, characterized by entirely digital fabrication. Over the past decade, the subjects of his large-scale, manipulated photographs have included landscapes, archaeological sites, and throngs of people congregated in a variety of disparate sites from raves to the stock exchange.
In 1994 an exhibition of Gursky’s work from 1984 to 1993 was presented at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg and the De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam. The Kunsthalle Düsseldorf presented a mid-career retrospective of his work in 1998. The Museum of Modern Art organized another retrospective in 2001. In 2007, two major traveling museum exhibitions of his work were organized by Kunstmuseum Basel and Haus der Kunst in Munich. His work has been seen in international exhibitions, including the Internationale Foto-Triennale in Esslingen (1989 and 1995), the Venice Biennale (1990 and 2004), and the Biennale of Sydney (1996 and 2000). Gursky has won several awards, among them the 1988 Förderpreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen für junge Künstler, the 1998 Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize, and the 2001 Infinity Award for Art from the International Center of Photography, New York.
Since 2002 Gursky has occupied a studio and living space realized by the architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron within a former power station in Düsseldorf.