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"Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting"
2002-02-14 until 2002-05-21
Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY,
Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting will be the first full-scale survey of the paintings of the influential German artist ever mounted in New York, as well as the most comprehensive overview of the artist’s work seen in North America. The exhibition will present some 180 paintings from every phase of Richter’s career, from 1962 to today.
Although Richter has been a well-known and greatly respected figure in Europe for many years, his achievement has been comparatively slow to come to the attention of the general public in the United States.
Ranging from photography-based pictures to gestural abstraction, Richter’s diverse body of work calls into question many widely held attitudes about the inherent importance of stylistic consistency, the organic evolution of individual artistic sensibility, the spontaneous nature of creativity, and the relationship of technological means and mass media imagery to traditional studio methods and formats. However, while many contemporary post-modernists have explored these issues by circumventing or dismissing painting as a viable artistic option, Richter has challenged painting to meet the demands posed by new forms of conceptual art.
Born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, Richter grew up under National Socialism and lived for another 16 years under East German Communism before moving to West Germany in 1961. Already accomplished as a mural painter, Richter began a radically new phase of his career in the heady artistic milieu that developed around Cologne and Düsseldorf in the 1960s. In that setting he discovered Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Fluxus, and a host of related avant-garde tendencies and formed ties with other artists of his generation, notably Sigmar Polke. Richter, Polke, and their friend Konrad Lueg identified themselves as German Pop artists, but were also briefly proponents of a satirical variant of Pop they called Capitalist Realism. Richter and his friends viewed the commercial culture of the West from a different perspective than their American and British counterparts as a result of the contrasting economic and political situation in Germany in the immediate postwar era.
Beginning in 1962 with grey-scale paintings that melded newspaper iconography and family snapshots with an austere photography-based realism unlike anything being done by the American Photo-Realists, Richter set his own course through the tangle of isms that thrived around him. In the early 1970s, Richter moved on to paint spare monochromes that evoked mainstream Minimalism, but with a significantly different intent and feeling. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richter’s brightly colored and boldly delineated canvases suggested but also diverged from the pyrotechnic Neo-Expressionist painting then in full flush. Throughout his career, Richter has cultivated a subtly romantic and seemingly anti-modernist manner in the landscapes and the hauntingly beautiful old master–like portraits he has intermittently produced even as he has pushed abstraction to new levels of visual intensity.
In 1988, Richter produced a startling cycle of 15 black-and-white paintings titled October 18, 1977, based on press photographs of the Baader-Meinhof group—a band of German radicals who died in a Stuttgart prison on that date in tragic and highly controversial circumstances. This group of paintings marks a turning point in Richter’s career, which had previously been interpreted as detached and ironic. The most recent work in this exhibition—which has not been widely seen in America—reveals a gentle, occasionally elegiac sensibility despite the abiding critical severity of Richter’s painterly identity.
In every aspect of his varied output, Richter has assumed a skeptical distance from vanguardists and conservatives alike regarding what painting should be, choosing instead to test the limits of what he as an artist could create out of the formal conventions and contradictory ideological legacy of the medium. The result, paradoxically, has been the most thorough deconstruction of those conventions and at the same time one of the most convincing demonstrations of painting’s renewed vitality to be found in late-20th and early 21st-century art.
Abstract Picture (Abstraktes Bild), 1992
Oil on aluminum panel
39 1/2 x 39 1/2
(100 x 100 cm)