On 16 January the CAC Malaga is presenting a retrospective exhibition shown for the first time in Spain and devoted to the work of Gerhard Richter, considered by many to be the most important artist of the second half of the 20th century. It brings together a total of 30 works created by Richter (born in Dresden in 1932) between 1960 and 2003. Together they offer a unique survey of this remarkable German artist’s work, once again proving that the notion of style cannot appropriately be applied to his oeuvre. In this sense, the exhibition’s curator Juergen Schilling has noted: “Art historians’ categories, which aim to place his work within specific trends by the use of stylistic labels, have not worked due to his polymorphism, often arising from crisis”.
Within the present exhibition, the emphasis is on Richter’s paintings based on photographs, his pure paintings, his famous grisailles and in particular the abstract expressionist works. In each one Richter reveals his virtuoso abilities with regard to a pictorial language which he uses in an extraordinary manner to work in a wide range of different genres such as landscape, the portrait and geometrical compositions.
Throughout his career, Richter’s work has been distinguished by his command of both figuration and abstraction. His work stood out in a climate in which painting was considered by many to be obsolete, exhausted and destined to disappear in the face of the new image-making technologies.
Born in 1932, after World War II Richter remained in East Germany, where he studied at the Dresden Fine Arts Academy. His early works include a number of murals on political subjects. Richter’s first visits to West Germany allowed him to make contact with new artistic trends such as Abstract Expressionism and Informalism.
In 1961, shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, Richter moved permanently to West Germany and was accepted at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, where he discovered the work of Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Fautrier and the experiments of the Fluxus group, a Dadaist revival. For a while the artist was associated with Capital Realism, a short-lived trend linked to Pop Art which described the situation in Post-War Germany from a satirical viewpoint.
Photography as starting-point
Richter abandoned Informalism in 1962 and began on his first works based on projected photographs. This is the period of his celebrated grisailles, resulting from the fact that most of the photographs which he used were in black and white, taken from newspapers and magazines (pornographic and otherwise), advertising brochures, portraits of unknown figures and of artists taken from the press. This is the period of Waldstück (Piece of Forest, 1965), Liebespaar in Wald (Lovers in the Forest, 1966), Olympia (1967) and Porträt Liz Kertelge (Portrait of Liz Kertelge, 1966). Among the portraits is the one of Brigid Polk (1971), one of the leading figures in Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York, depicted five times in total.
At the same time that he was producing these photography-based works and demonstrating that his work could not be classified in a linear manner, Richter created a new group of works clearly influenced by Pop Art in which colour played the key role. An excellent example included in the exhibition is Sechs Farben (Six Colours, 1966). From 1969 onwards, landscape began to prevail in the artist’s work, a genre that he has continued to work in regularly to the present day and represented here by works from a private collection such as Wilhelmshaven (1969), Brücke am Meer (Bridge over the Sea, 1969), Seestück (Marine View, 1969) and Stadtbild PL (Urban Landscape, 1970), the last radically different to the previous works both in the perspective and technique deployed.
Richter’s use of colour
Richter’s interest in colour is evident in paintings such as Ausschnitt (Detail, 1971), based on the amplification of the chromatic combinations of the oil paint on the artist’s palette, and Grau (Grey, 1976). According to the artist, in these monochromatic grey canvases he is looking for “the only and ideal correspondence possible for indifference, negation of the message and lack of form”.
Richter created his first abstract painting, Konstruktion (Construction, 1976) when he was still painting his grisailles. It is notably different in technique and handling to his later abstractions, represented in the present exhibition by Pavillon (Pavilion, 1982), Eule (Owl, 1892) and Ingrid (1984).
This interest in abstraction did not prevent the artist from also working in a figurative mode. The result is landscapes such as Krems (1986), still lifes such as Blumen (Flowers, 1994), and enigmatic paintings of candles and skulls that recall Baroque “vanitas” symbolism, for example Schädel mit Kerze (Skull with Candle, 1983).
With regard to the future of painting, Richter himself has said: “...everything has already been represented in the history of art long ago and the new technologies of communication, video, performance, etc, can convey it all according to the times we live in. Nonetheless, pleasure is a proof of the necessity for painting. All children paint spontaneously. Painting has a marvellous future, doesn’t it?
Oil on canvas
51 x 71 cm