When it comes to the artwork of Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci it makes sense that they fetch a high price. These artists were at the top of their game 500 years ago and are still world-renowned today. Their art matters not just on your wall but to history. They are part of the history of the world. Yet when you see some of the prices that modern art goes for it does defy belief. Recently there was a new title of the world’s most expensive photograph when one sold for over $4 million dollars. How could a simple photo ever be worth $4 million and what must the picture be of?
Well, it turns out nothing really. The picture was taken by Andreas Gursky who is the number one art photographer in the world today. He took a picture of the River Rhein on a particularly cloudy day. The picture shows some grass on either side of the river with a bike path running alongside it and the clouds overhead. It is, immediately, unimpressive.
So how is it worth so much money? The first thing to acknowledge is that the price paid for a piece of art, whether a photograph a sculpture, or a painting, is not always entirely related to that piece of art. In most cases, it is someone who wants to purchase the work of a famous artist. As Gursky is the most famous art photographer in the world right now it makes sense that his work would go for a high amount. This piece in particular actually broke a record for the most expensive photo that was also held by Gursky. The print is large too and relatively rare as only 6 prints were made. All of this meant that someone decided it was worth a lot of money.
From an artistic perspective, the picture did receive a lot of praise too. While after viewing it initially it does seem quite boring, the more you look at it and search for a deeper meaning the more impressive it becomes. It is not a landscape or sight that you would likely even stop at if you passed by. The artist didn’t go to extreme lengths to reach this site. It looks like he just pulled over off the main road. He didn’t wait for a beautiful day to take it either, it looks like it might rain. Yet there is something alluring about it.
The first thing that strikes you about the picture is the straight lines. Straight lines are rare in nature and this picture is full of them. The artist chose to split the picture in half with the top half of the picture entirely sky and the bottom half all grass and river. This immediately seems like a rookie move but it fits well with the composition overall. The horizon line is so straight that it is likely Gursky used some photoshop to make it work as these five horizontal lines that create the photo are so straight.
There is meaning in these straight lines. They appear as they will never end. There is nothing in the photo and yet there is so much. Whether this is a metaphor for life and how modernity is constraining it or perhaps how we all feel a little empty inside despite a running river in all of us, is up to you. What is clear from viewing the picture is that it does make you think.
The picture doesn’t make you think about the skills of the artist, we could all take this picture. Yet we didn’t and even if we did it doesn’t matter. Gursky has a voice that we do not. If you could paint like Van Gogh you likely still wouldn’t earn the price a Van Gogh painting earns today. So is the photo worth over $4 million dollars? Absolutely not. However, art is subjective, and if someone is willing to pay that for a photo then more power to them.