I would recognize that it's an excellent photograph, but nothing more.
Ok, let's forego your comments on how he is an 'unmistakeable genius', I wouldn't get it if you knocked me on my head with that genius!
(Mind you, the term is technically wrong, since so many of us right here have cheerfully made the 'mistake' of not understanding that 'genius')
Let me ask a simpler question:
Why is this an excellent photograph?- please explain it as you see it. Please avoid esoteric terms like cold, banal, etc. or terms like composition and texture without explaining why that is good. I am not asking about the 'concept' in it. Just why this is an excellent photograph.
It's also possible everyone here has no taste. Most casual non-photographers could identify what's right with Gursky's work (as a whole, not just this one odd photograph of his) seeing it in a gallery or at least simply understand what he's up to, but we're too obsessed with MTF and clone tools.
I could ask you to describe why Beethoven's 9th is great without using words like "melodious" "beautiful" or discussing texture and composition... Give it a go. You can instantly recognize that it's great, so describe it (don't do any research first, either!) and convince me. Let's say I prefer Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus because it has more emotion and lyrics. Convince me otherwise.
See why you put me in a tough spot? But I'll try:
Again, this isn't my favorite photograph of his, but why it's good or at least interesting is fairly simple to articulate. Gursky's work is all very cold and formal... He rarely has one identifiable person in his frame, and when he does have one that person is at a distance. His photographs are all about textures found in large, manmade spaces, and he often photographs with long lenses from a distance with a near-orthographic/planometric feel or from heights not normally accessible to people (helicopters, etc.) and then composes extremely cleanly and prints huge. The universe feels very disorganized at normal viewing perspectives and most photos here are chaotic or sloppy. His photographs have ultra-simple compositions (sometimes as simple as one texture) and within those compositions blocks of texture and gradation that are only really appreciable at wall-sized prints... reminds me of Pollock a bit, order in chaos. Also reminds me of one of my friends, a brilliant landscape photographer (who is much more fun, and shoots Canon!): http://www.alexmaclean.com
Seeing the everyday world appear so flat and composed and organized and distant is unnerving... usually it only appears that way very small (molecular structure, crystal structure) or large (solar systems, etc.) and seeing that geometry and distance applied to banal man-made objects gives this god's-eye-view perspective that's cold and unnerving and overwhelming and (particularly when these prints are big) makes the subject feel small and humanity small and irrelevant somehow. His photos are about organizing the modern world from a distanced, symmetrical, omniscient perspective that is not sympathetic to its subjects, who are rendered irrelevant relative to the texture they fall into... really god's eye view stuff. And you see it and are overwhelmed by the symmetry and coldness of his take on humanity and the modern day, particularly when you see a big print... it's overwhelming. Almost cosmic, being faced with something so big and cold and composed that makes you feel so small in comparison. See it printed large!
This photo is so extreme in its style... the subject matter so banal, but the composition so perfect (the bars are balanced exquisitely for color, texture, shade, etc. and weighted perfectly; if you deny this you have a horrible eye for composition). Say what you will but this is a ridiculously good composition, so good it's almost, well... boring. It's an everyday view of a familiar subject seen with godlike distance and symmetry. That's it. Pretty simple stuff and to me not as interesting as his other work. Almost a parody of Gursky it's so extreme, probably why it sold for so much.
The guy comes across as a cold bastard. He listens to techno, probably watches David Fincher. If that coldness and order appeals to you, then his work is amazing. Printed large, it makes you feel insignificant as though faced with an overwhelmingly huge god's-eye-view. A little bit preachy, a little bit pretentious, but expertly composed and (as seen printed full-sized on a wall) even viscerally breathtaking. Gursky's work reminds me of Zodiac or Aphex Twin (circa Drukqs) or something. Cold, clinical, formal, but lacking in humanity. https://www.google.com/search?q=gursky&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=aqoMU5OBJbOQyQGIsICoAg&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ
I prefer photography with a human element to it, but Gursky does something no one else is doing or even successfully emulating. Guy's great.