In Gerhard Richter's (Dresden, Germany, 1932) painting diversity through experimentation takes centre stage. A stranger to the conflicting abstraction versus figuration, due to his belief that both mediums are necessary, Richter paraphrases styles to make them his own. At the beginning of the sixties he bursts onto the scene as one of the artists to break down dominant art hierarchies, following in the footsteps of Joseph Beuys and Blinky Palermo.
Richter was an apprentice of Sigmar Polke in Dusseldorf and one of the founders of Capitalist realism, a satirical take on American Pop Art through the use of photographs to create images. After having worked purely with painting, he soon turns his attentions to photography - images taken from newspapers and encyclopaedias - as it forms the backbone of his work. He endeavours to delve deeper into the literal nature of images and question the limits of painting, looking at the capacity for exactitude in the medium of technical reproduction and exploring all avenues of painting to find his own reality (as he blurs the contours of bodies and objects to bestow a kind of elusive nature upon the image).
The works that comprise the exhibition trace the multi-directional course that Richter's career takes between 1962 and 1992. At one end, the instrumental use of black and white photography: from the self-styled “photo paintings”, his portrait series (politicians, intellectuals and students) and landscapes, to the series on the death of Andreas Baader, leader of the Red Army Faction, all painted with a tonal range of greys. And at the other, the abstract painting that, according to the art critic José Lebrero: “explores the textural possibilities of the formal aspects of the medium” and which insists on making the material aspects and process of producing pictures (colour extension) visible through the technique of building layers to alter the image at the same time it is growing three-dimensionally.
Moreover, it emphasises the desire to systematise the body of work as a whole, starting his catalogue raisonné off with Table (1962). According to José Lebrero, this phenomenon underlines: “the sense of the object he believes is contained in his painting, specific and finished artefacts that encompass an archive at the same time they are producing it.” He also cites his project Atlas (started in 1969) which offers clues to unearthing the origin and formative process of a large part of his pictorial work. His Colour Charts must also be touched upon; created at different stages of his career, they follow a pop and even minimalist approach and even disparagingly and ironically nod towards Neo-constructivists.
Finally, Richter forms a strained relationship between history and the present via the reference to and questioning of the themes in his works, as illustrated in 48 Portraits (1971-1972), which bear witness to the vacuum of time whilst, in the words of Lebrero: “aborting the expressive life of the painting and weakening the symbolic capacities of the work.”
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (October 23 - November 21, 1993); Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn (December 10, 1993 - February 13, 1994); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (March 12 - May 8, 1994)