Photography studio, gallery and training complex

£2.7m For A Photograph? Gursky Does It Again


"Rhein II" by Andreas Gursky

“Rhein II”, a glass-mounted photograph (from an edition of six works) by Andreas Gursky has fetched £2.7m ($4.3m) at Christies in New York. This lifts the title of “most expensive photograph” from Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96” which struggled to sell for a paltry $3,890,500 at the same auction house back in May 2011.

So what exactly is it that gives this image it’s immense value? Gursky’s work is often large scale, too big to hang above the average domestic mantelpiece, so one can only assume its value lies less in its inherent artistic merits (Gursky is no stranger to criticism of his work on the grounds of mundanity) and more, like other art forms, in it’s investment potential.

Gursky’s held the title before – for “99 Cent II Diptychon” which sold at Sotheby’s, London in February 2007 for $$3,346,456. Other prints of it sold for $2.25m in 2006, and $2.48m later in the same year so it would seem that at a time when various world currencies are on their knees, art, like gold, is a good place to put your (or your company’s) cash.

Other photographs in the “most expensive” list include a tin-type image of Billy The Kid, considered to be the only genuine likeness of that icon of the Wild West, which fetched $2.3m earlier this year. In that case, the image (by an anonymous photographer) is entirely unique and of some historic importance, which might go some way to explaining it’s high price.

But can the same be said of Gursky’s work? Or Sherman’s?

What do you think about this? What is it that puts this image in a different financial league to even the work of his most acclaimed contemporaries?

The BBC’s piece about the Gursky:

A list of most expensive photographs:




5 responses

  1. Andrew Crawford

    Never has the phrase more money than sense been more appropraite!

    November 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

  2. This is interesting isn’t it? In view of the recent anti capitalism demos, one would think that we have now realised that whoever has that kind of money probably doesn’t really deserve it, or at the very least not in these quantities. Despite this, we still gape at this type of purchase, without really realising that the amount would simply be obscene regardless of the thing purchased. Still there is a market for high end art, regardless of its intrasic value: in a kind of reverse engeneering way, it is not the image or the art that causes the price tag, but the price tag causing the image to be seen as art. After all, there are very little instance of recognised art not linked to money (apart from Van Gogh, poor man).
    There is such a thing as a “confortable buy”, when we purchase something we don’t really need, just to make us feel belonging to the peer system. This kind of amount is “comfortable buy” of the highest order, a purchase that, even if we can’t afford it and never will be, we still find remarkable and in a way reassuring. It’s confort by proxy.
    At the end of the day though, whether it is to pay a footballer £350.000 a week, or buy a £30K car or a £2.7m photograph, the process and the purpose are the same and it has very little to do with art.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    • I think there’s something much more “calculated” about this than merely a “comfortable buy” (great phrase!) which sort of suggests a fairly flippant attitude to spending disposable cash. I suspect this purchase is more the result of a boardroom meeting with spreadsheets and tax advisors heavily involved. Cynical? Moi?

      November 18, 2011 at 9:27 am

  3. mike peters

    What I would like to know, showing my ignorance, is why Andreas Gursky’s art is considered to be worth so much money. I agree with the previous 2 comments about money decided what is ‘good’ art. It would be interesting if a student submitted this work as an assignment and to see what grade he/she got.

    November 16, 2011 at 5:37 pm

  4. I think that Gursky’s images were very relevant when he actually took them. Now that he’s done it, whoever does it again will stand in his shadow so to speak and guilty of “copycatting”. This image is not really representative of his work though. He’s done great stuff that has a real sense of scale, of human insignificance compared to his surroundings. He’s one of the first to have used supersized prints for instance. Seeing them live (I think the Tate Modern has some) is something else.
    As to students “doing a Gursky”, there are plenty of them, it is now part of the stages of progression in one’s photographic practice I would say, the way you do a Pollock or a Rothko in painting classes. You also have to remember that the actual photographic end product is not the only criterai on which assignments are judged. the concept, the idea behind the shot, the contextual studies are part of it too.

    November 18, 2011 at 9:56 am

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