About This Artwork
In Review, four German chancellors—Gerhard Schröder, Helmut Schmidt, Angela Merkel, and Helmut Kohl—sit in front of American artist Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950–51), an abstract expressionist painting that is a centerpiece of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Andreas Gursky’s photograph recasts the painting behind glass and under the gaze of both viewers and the German heads of state. Mimicking Newman’s vertical zip, Gursky’s window features a mullion that splits the field of vision. By adding provocative observers and window details, Gursky presents an open-ended reflection on the values of Western art and political traditions. During the Cold War, abstract expressionism was covertly utilized by the U.S. government to symbolize creative prosperity nurtured by American freedoms, as opposed to the Soviet Union’s socialist realism, which was fostered under communist ideologies. Made last year, Review calls for viewers to consider global powers in a time of extreme precariousness, when propaganda wars hardly seem outlandish.