The Economist presents a well-reasoned and compelling argument for Andreas Gursky as the true heir to Warhol’s legacy. In the process, we also get an explanation for why 99 Cents II (Diptych) became his most valuable work:
Warhol’s close-up portraits of the famous might seem very far away from Mr Gursky’s anonymously populated urban landscapes, but the two artists share a deadpan neutrality to their subjects. Neither are “critical”, per se, and this is an important ingredient in their widespread appeal. (Art aficionados generally prefer to make up their own minds.) The highest price ever paid for a photograph, £1.7m ($3.3m), was for Mr Gursky’s “99 Cent II (Diptych)”, which depicts aisle upon aisle of garishly packaged bargains in a Los Angeles shop. The ironic clash of high price and cheap subject matter couldn’t be louder. Conceptually, it is not unlike Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can. The lowliest form of consumption is transformed into the loftiest.
Few would claim that “99 Cent II (Diptych)” was Mr Gursky’s most important work. Other photos, such as “Tokyo Stock Exchange” or “Montparnasse”, better epitomise the artist’s way of portraying the chaos of the crowd in an orderly grid. Moreover, the diptych version of “99 Cents” was made in 2001, two years after the original single image (pictured above), and well after his seminal compositions of the early 1990s. Dealers explain the record price by its presentation at auction at the height of the boom, in February 2007. But perhaps it’s no coincidence that Mr Gursky’s most expensive work is also his most Pop.