Summary

Chicago, Board of Trade II was produced in an edition of six. Tate owns one of two artist’s proofs of the image. This large colour photograph depicts the trading floor of the Board of Trade in Chicago. Seen from above, the floor is a dense hive of activity. Brokers in brightly coloured jackets stand in groups around banks of monitors. Their flurried actions give the image a blurred quality; Gursky double exposed several sections of the image to enhance this sense of movement. Around the edges of the pit rise banks of desks, behind which are seated rows of figures hunched over telephones, staring at screens or gesticulating to their colleagues.

Gursky’s process often involves taking several pictures of a subject and scanning the resultant images into a computer where he can merge and manipulate them. His aim in using digital technology is not to create fictions but rather to heighten the image of something that exists in the world. He has said, ‘Since 1992 I have consciously made use of the possibilities offered by electronic picture processing, so as to emphasise formal elements that will enhance the picture, or, for example, to apply a picture concept that in real terms of perspective would be impossible to realise’ (quoted in ‘... I generally let things develop slowly’, Andreas Gursky: Fotografien 1994-1998, p.viii). By enhancing certain elements, he preserves the impression of something he has seen.

In this case the flat, all-over quality of the picture and lack of single perspective make the architecture of the room hard to read. The traders, banks of monitors and scraps of paper littering the floor become part of an overall patterning reminiscent of Abstract Expressionist painting. Rather than being a straight depiction of the trading floor as a place, Gursky’s image seems to depict the brash, exuberant and unfathomable activity of the stock market as a global phenomenon. Indeed, this is one of a series of photographs Gursky has taken of international stock and commodity exchanges, including the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Singapore Simex and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He also made a previous image of the Chicago Board of Trade in 1997. In the earlier image, taken from a lower vantage point, one of the far walls of the trading room is visible, giving a sense that the activity of the trading floor is contained. In this version, made two years later, the overcrowded trading floor occupies the whole image. The colours have been digitally enhanced, adding to an intense decorative effect that mimics mosaic or stained glass.

Between 1981 and 1986 Gursky studied fine art photography under Bernd and Hilla Becher (born 1931 and 1934 respectively) in the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where his fellow students included Thomas Struth (born 1954), Thomas Ruff (born 1958) and Candida Höfer (born 1944). Along with his contemporaries Gursky achieved international acclaim soon after finishing his studies. He began travelling extensively in the 1990s, and used this opportunity to take pictures that fall within several broad themes, including work, leisure, landscape and architecture. In addition to providing a potent vision of the contemporary global economy, his images of banks, stock exchanges and global corporate headquarters are full of human activity. Gursky’s emphasis is on how people appear en masse rather than privileging an individual perspective or narrative.

Further reading:
Peter Galassi, Andreas Gursky, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001, reproduced no.48 in colour.
Andreas Gursky, Veit Görner and Annelie Lütgens, Andreas Gursky: Fotografien 1994-1998, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 1998.
Fiona Bradley, Greg Hilty and Lewis Biggs, Andreas Gursky: Images, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1995.

Rachel Taylor
February 2004