Andreas Gursky

Chicago Board of Trade II

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CreditsCourtesy of TATE

If asked to picture what our ‘economy’ looks like, this is perhaps an image that would spring to mind. Andreas Gursky’s monumental photograph of a cacophonous trading pit might once have been seen as a triumphal celebration of profit: the amphitheatre of capitalism. In the 2010s, after successive waves of financial catastrophe, the vortex of frenetic activity is more likely to be read as the unstable core of a system driven by the sociopathic exploits of men addicted to the gambler’s adrenalin.

Gursky’s vertiginous image uses digital manipulation to create a dense, amplified version of reality. The loss of horizon creates a separate space divorced almost entirely from the material world (or future worlds) the traders’ manic deals refer to.  It is hard not to see this division in gendered terms. The testosterone-fuelled pit could not seem further away from those that capitalism’s harsh realities have been shown time and again to hit the hardest: women.

The photograph captures the heyday of the open outcry system which created spectacular scenes on the octagonal floor as commodity traders sweated out deals through shouts and gestures. Today, the public viewing galleries of Chicago’s Board of Trade are closed for security reasons and technology is consigning such performances to history. Gursky caught the invisible hand working through the bodies of these traders just before it slid still further from view.


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