First you must understand why this book was put together. Peter Galassi, the Museum of Modern Art in New York's Chief Curator in the Department of Photography made this book as a sort of large catalog to accompany the Gursky retrospective which was in May 2001. The Gursky's photos are huge, the exhibition at MOMA was huge and the book is - well, big, but other's will more than likely agree, it could be bigger especially in context to Gursky's work. (12" x 13.5")
Inside you'll find two things Gursky's photos and Peter Galassi's essay. More than likely you'll thumb through the book ogling the photos first, only to find the treasure of Peter's research about Gursky much later. Galassi's writes with authority and intellect as he discusses the "artistic contexts and origins of the work" in detail. In the preface Galassi admits that the introduction is lengthy but is only meant to encourage further study. Indeed, you are curious, you are pulled in. Here is a sample "Andreas Gursky's best pictures of the past decade knock your socks off, and they're meant to. They're big, bold, full of color, and full of surprise. As each delivers its punch, the viewer is already wondering where it came from - and will continue to enjoy the seduction of surprise long after scrutinizing the picture in detail." Galassi continues with bringing non-photo experts up to speed on the environment of the European aesthetic over the past 150 years, with much of the focus being on the 1950'6 - 60's. Fortunately attention has been paid also the Becher's, one of Andreas Gursky's mentors from the Kunstakademie (art academy), as well as the changes that had occurred in the practice of what was being taught there. Influential artists are named and noted and neatly woven into the grand picture. There is more, but for my purposes here, the result is a writing that so thoroughly saturates the history of the artist and his medium, that it is indispensable to the book as a whole. If it were only a book of slick, meticulously composed scenes on a gargantuan scale, it would be just another coffee table book; left to collect dust in some neatly arranged corner.
The discovery of Gursky's photos is a big one. (Quick note, anyone who has ever been remotely associated with graphic design will appreciate the clean lines and layout of text and photos.) Not only is the book highly readable, it looks modern. Pages 43 -186 are entirely the color plates. They are huge. They are fascinating.
I have read a variety of descriptions of Gursky's works, many of them come from very different starting points and all come to the conclusion that he is a master artist. The photos are everything from "...modestly scaled, infallibly exposed, sharply focused images..." and "focus on the recent phase of capitalism, reified leisure, consumerist fantasies and global transformation of production." His works are "complex and labor intensive process", "Olympian" in their "detached observation of setting and stilled activity," and " overwhelmingly dense image(s) rendered with astonishing visual clarity." My point being, that you cannot escape something mesmerizing, which is the view on the world only Gursky can offer. He shoots everything from alpine landscapes to stock exchange rooms, sunsets and shoe racks, rock concerts to factories, all with the same omniscient eye. The result is astonishing; it is a sucker punch. Urbanscapes, which encompass both, views of the micro and the macro, and often render a feeling of disbelief.
There is something in these photos for EVERYONE. Literally in the sense that Gursky has traveled the world to capture these scenes. Figuratively because there is something here that everyone can relate to. Above and beyond shopping for candy, watching a sunset, standing on the mezzanine of a hotel balcony, this work conjures big questions about: commerce, ultra-consumerism, mass development and cultural homogenization, the feeling of being alone in a crowd, great energy spent on insignificant things and more. The conclusions are here for you to discover.
In summary, the book is wonderful. It is eye candy and it is brain candy. In no way is the book a substitute for seeing the artwork, but if you have to take "the next best thing" surely this book is it. I highly recommend this book for students who are actively pursuing a degree or career in photography, for art historians, teachers of art or photography, and anyone interested in social - political - environmental - or spiritual commentary by a modern artist.