Parliament 1998 is a vertically oriented colour photograph by the German artist Andreas Gursky that is nearly two and a half metres tall and more than a metre and a half wide. Taken from an elevated perspective and seemingly through a window, the photograph depicts the assembly hall of the German parliament (Bundestag) in Bonn. The gridded pattern of the window frames through which the scene is captured divides the composition into four horizontal bands. In the bottom two sections of the image, groups of politicians can be seen standing on the floor of the hall and among its curving rows of desks with their bright blue seats. The upper two sections of the scene feature a public gallery overlooking the hall and, at the very top of the composition, a reflection of the scene below in which the floor, desk and blue seating areas are inverted. Although the photograph is of a very high resolution, blurring and refraction are evident in places throughout (especially in its lowest section) and the fragmented impression created by the window bars is heightened by Gursky’s digital manipulation of the image. For instance, in the centre of the work, one rectangular area of the public gallery appears to have been overlaid onto a separate image of the interior, as is suggested by the differences in colour and the number of people sitting on its benches. Furthermore, it is difficult to see what might be the cause of the inverted or reflected section at the top of the photograph, which suggests that it has been added by Gursky digitally. Tate’s copy of Parliament is one of an edition of six.
Gursky made this photograph in 1998 in Düsseldorf, where he lives and works and where he trained at the Arts Academy in 1981–7. He began to digitally alter his photographs in 1991, scanning them into a computer and then using software to retouch elements or to combine several shots into one image. For instance, in The Rhine II 1999 (Tate P78372) the artist erased buildings that he felt detracted from the natural landscape in the scene. His work as a whole might therefore be said to encourage viewers to question the authenticity of the image presented.
In the case of Parliament, Gursky’s use of digital manipulation could be seen to have a political dimension. Bonn was the home of the West German parliament from 1949 to 1990, and after German reunification in 1990, the new government continued to meet in Bonn until 1999 (using the assembly hall featured in Gursky’s work from 1992 onwards). Shortly after this photograph was taken, the parliament relocated to the renovated Reichstag building in Berlin, where one copy of Gursky’s Parliament is on display. That the institution depicted in Parliament has undergone such shifts in location and identity, and given the division and fragmentation that Germany experienced throughout the twentieth century, the manipulated nature of Gursky’s photograph might point to the country’s complicated geopolitical history.
Furthermore, while the importance of democratic transparency was a major topic of discussion following German reunification, the blurring and reflections in Parliament seem to suggest that the physical transparency of government buildings can still produce distortions, and that even glass windows can create feelings of political separation or distance. The art historian and curator Rupert Pfab has argued that Parliament raises ‘the question of positioning the viewer with regards to a particular picture … like the photographer, we remain on the outside and cannot participate in the proceedings taking place in the picture’ (Rupert Pfab, ‘Perception and Communication: Thoughts on New Motifs by Andreas Gursky’, trans. by Jeremy Gaines, in Syring 1998, p.9).
In large photographs such as Parliament, Gursky has often taken an elevated perspective to capture groups of people in vast working environments, from factories and construction sites to offices within skyscrapers. Examples of this include Chicago, Board of Trade II 1999 (Tate P20191), which is part of a series of photographs by Gursky depicting stock exchanges around the world. Parliament was exhibited in Gursky’s major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2001, where it was displayed as Bundestag, Bonn [Parliament, Bonn].
Marie Luise Syring (ed.), Andreas Gursky: Photographs from 1984 to the Present, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf 1998, p.9, reproduced p.26.
Peter Galassi, Andreas Gursky, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2001, reproduced p.149.
Martin Hentschel, ‘The Totality of the World, Viewed in its Component Forms: Andreas Gursky’s Photographs 1980 to 2008’, in Andreas Gursky: Werke/Works 80–08, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Krefeld, Ostfildern 2008, pp.22–34.
Revised by Richard Martin and Celia White
Supported by Christie’s.