In this monumental photograph, the flat, black curves of the Bahrain International Circuit raceway snake in exaggerated arcs and twists across a sandy desert. Shot from a vantage point high above the ground, the complex network of track resembles the gestural black strokes of an Abstract Expressionist canvas by Franz Kline. Indeed, this photograph, almost ten feet in height, dominates the wall in the manner of a painting.
After studying with the photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Gursky went on to create large-scale photographs of contemporary urban and rural sights across the globe, including international business headquarters, undulating crowds of young partiers, and vast landscapes of vivid color. Astounding in their intricacy, the plentiful details in his images ground the subjects in specific moments and places and at the same time highlight the pictures’ patterns and surfaces. Directional markings, lights, and corporate logos are visible across the Bahrain raceway, but there are no apparent spectators or maintenance crews.
Gursky uses digital manipulation to great effect. This picture has been made by splicing together multiple shots and eliminating specific details to create a multilayered yet seamless web. The artist has conjured a place that is at once hyperreal and implicitly artificial—a constructed reality in keeping with his contemporary subject.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019).
Gursky is from a generation of photographers who came to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s by challenging the primacy of painting through the scale and grandeur of their work. He takes full advantage of the possibilities of digital manipulation in building his images. Here we see a racetrack winding through a desert landscape in Bahrain.
Gallery label from Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now, November 21, 2007-July 28, 2008.