© Andreas Gursky/courtesy Christie’s
Gursky’s “Rhein II” is a 143 x 73-inch signed chromogenic print in an edition of six.
Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II” sold for $4,338,500 at an auction of contemporary art at Christie’s auction house in New York on November 8, making it the most expensive photo sold at auction. This is the second time a Gursky print has held this distinction. His 2001 photo “99 Cent II Diptychon” sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $3,346,456 in 2007, and was only displaced in May 2011, when a 1981 Cindy Sherman self-portrait sold for $3,890,500 at Christie’s. The buyer of “Rhein II” is unknown.
“Rhein II,” a signed chromogenic print in an edition of six, is digitally retouched to show the banks of Germany’s Rhine River as bare stretches of green. Prior to the sale, the auction house estimated that the print would sell for between $2,5 million and $3.5 million. According to Christie’s, other prints in the edition are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, Munich’s Pinakothek der Modern, and the Glenstone Collection in Potomac, Maryland.
Like most of Gursky’s works, “Rhein II” is big: 143 inches by 73 inches. It’s also face-mounted to Plexiglas, a process that some collectors have feared could cause conservation issues, such as warping or deterioration of the image, depending on the chemicals used during mounting.
According to the Guardian newspaper, Gursky considers the bleak landscapes one of his favorite photos. “For me it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are.”
Some reporters and critics were more skeptical. In a post titled “Here’s the world’s most expensive (and boring?) photo,” a writer at the Seattle Post Intelligencer joked, “One can only assume the collector really likes stripes of green and gray.”