color coupler print face-mounted on Plexiglas
120 7/8 x 85½ in. (307 x 217.1 cm.)
Executed in 2006. This work is number two from an edition of six.
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Andreas Gursky, 2007-2008, p. 109 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe, Andreas Gursky: Architecture, 2008, cover and p. 92 (illustrated, another example exhibited).


Cheops, 2007, exemplifies Andreas Gursky's world of invention, in which he takes the realistic medium of photography and manipulates it to expose a new experience of the social and historical realities of the world. His monumental color photographs impress themselves upon an audience in a way that forces his fiction into our reality.

To choose the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as subject-matter, was to directly address the history of humankind. Believed to be the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek), the Pyramid of Cheops is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids located in the Giza Necropolis of Egypt. Gursky melds current technology and digital manipulation with the primordial architecture of an ancient society in order to establish history's effect on his viewers within their modern world. He examines history, experimenting with both the order and the deterioration offered by the pyramid. Due to its title, Cheops is immediately associated with the celebrated civilization, organization, and architectural triumphs of Egypt's ancient era. Gursky uses the power of this knowledge and his artistic ability to further develop the narrative of the Pyramid of Cheops as well as contemporary photography, by choosing the parts people will see as well as the perspective from which they will see them.

Cheops is an excellent example of Gursky's ability to use photography from the perspective of a painter, a rare viewpoint within his field. He recalls the success of the stories told through the idealized realism of history paintings from the 19th Century by mimicking the idea of documentation as well as the grandiose scale and attention to detail. He also exploits the painterly possibilities of photography by horizontally compartmentalizing the image. This division imposes a sort of patter upon the subject, bringing the viewer back to the surface after having plunged so deeply into the story beyond the frame. He uses formal elements of geometry and repetition to abstract reality through the medium of photography. Cheops is a distortion of the truth in order to impress upon the viewer the true message. Gursky reminds us of a past civilization in order to provide us with a new outlook on our own society.

Gursky regularly inundates his photographs with meaning, but Cheops takes on a new level of gravity that is special amidst the artist's oeuvre. "I don't glorify or idealize anything," states Gursky (Gursky quoted in Andreas Gursky, Kunstmuseum Basel 2007, p. 71). The photographer draws in his audience with the globally and historically venerated symbol of the pyramid, yet he digitally manipulates it so that the iconic shape of the pyramid is no longer recognizable. Rather than boast the grandeur of the Pyramid of Cheops, Gursky's point of view reflects on the human labor and slavery that enabled such an impressive construction. Devoid of human life, the photograph tells the story of those who expired in their efforts to create such an impossible, monumental structure. He addresses the flaws of past and present society.