Gerhard Richter, one of the most important German (and international) artists in history, was born in Dresden in 1932. He studied at the local Academy of Arts from 1951–1956. After relocating to West Germany, he studied at the Dusseldorf Academy from 1961–1963, taking up teaching there beginning in 1971. Starting from the Social Realism problematic, he poses the question of what painting can be in today’s media-dominated society. He makes the artistic language his issue and turns it into the subject matter of his painting.
Richter doesn’t follow a single concept. Rather he cultivates several very distinct fields of activity that have been coexisting for decades. There’s his photography-based works, his abstract images (often in a painterly decal fashion) that have dominated his work since 1976, and his conceptual works, like, for instance, the large (200x200 cm) “1024 Colours” of 1974. Or, there are also the “Grey” images (by their shiny surface establishing a spatial relation to the viewer), and the “Vermalungen” (dispersed colour) in brown and grey, which combine sensual and conceptual elements. In addition to that, there are also the figurative works such as the “candle” series.
Richter both references and reconstructs in his works. His famous image “Ema”, now in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, which shows a female nude coming down a flight of stairs, is a direct quotation of Marcel Duchamp’s “Nu, descendant un escalier.” His other photo-based works refer to historical models as well, alluding, for example, to Julia Margaret Cameron’s oeuvre by being out of focus. In some works, he uses art-historical reconstruction like in the candle-series. They refer to the rich and varied iconography of the candle in European art, but they are reconstructive, as they do not refer to a specific image–they don’t quote. They do, however, have a common source. This is, most probably, a lithograph by Honoré Daumier that depicts an artist who has just been refused at the Salon, and who points to his “masterpiece” while saying that the jury has proven themselves complete ignoramuses by refusing to include his painting: it shows a burning candle.
Richter puts the rather dead motif of the candle back into the context of contemporary art. This is a reconstruction of a historical complex. (1) Richter also reconstructs in his seascapes and cloud images. These subjects, as the main motif of a composition, arose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (e.g. Alexander Cozens). By taking this up, Richter proves himself to be fascinated by reconstructing the art of the 19th century, turning it into very contemporary imagery. This attests to the continuity of artistic endeavour that Richter obviously understands very well.
The abstract works caused a great stir when they were presented on a large scale in an exhibition in the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf in 1986. By then, everybody was convinced that abstract expressionism was dying, and along came Richter to prove the contrary. His abstract pictorial elements possess a structural form, contrasting against purely informal parts of the pictures, outlining the surface structures of certain fields of colour. Some of the abstract works seem to be “closed,” refusing to let in the onlooker, leaving him outside their lively coloured surfaces. Other works, however, create a very deep pictorial space that onlookers are invited to explore.
With these works and by probing again and again what painting can be, Richter shows the complexity of reality, which is, by and large, the reality of painting.
(1) See Gerhard Charles Rump: Rekonstruktionen. Positionen zeitgenössischer Kunst. Berlin 2010, pp. 105-107
Ein Hauch von Eden, 27.11.2010 - 31.01.2011, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
Zeitschnitt, 14.01.2006 - 14.03.2006, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
Gerhard Richter. Abstraktion, till Oct. 21, 2018, Museum Barberini, Potsdam
Birkenau, Feb. 06, 2016 - May 29, 2016, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
... and there was time, until Jan. 31, 2016, Centro de Artes Visuales Fundación Helga de Alvear, Cáceres, Spain
Cézanne to Richter: Masterpieces of the Kunstmuseum Basel, until Feb. 21, 2016, Kunstmuseum Basel Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Swiss
Deutsche Kunst Nach 1960, June 24, 2015 - Nov. 15, 2015, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Klosterneuburg, Austria
New Presentation at Albertinum, Feb. 28, 2015 - Sep. 27, Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, Dresden, Germany
Land in Sicht, March 14, 2015 - Sep. 17, 2015, Weserburg - Museum für Moderne Kunst, Bremen
Verzweigt: Bäume in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, March 15, 2015 - June 14, 2015, ALTANA Kulturstiftung Museum Sinclair-Haus, Bad Homburg v.d.H.
Paperworks of the Frieder Burda Collection, March 26, 2015 - May 25, 2015, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin
Variations: Abstract Painting today, Aug. 24, 2014 - May 22, 2015, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Bilderwahl! Monolithic Water, until March 1, 2015, Kunsthaus Zürich
Gerhard Richter, Ausschnitt. Works of the Böckmann Collection, until Feb. 22, 2015, Neues Museum in Nürnberg, Nürnberg
40 | 10 Bilderwechsel, until Feb. 15, 2015, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
Ausweitung der Kampfzone. 1968-2000. The Collection Part 3, Nov. 8, 2013 - Dec. 31, 2014, Neue Nationalgalerie, Kulturforum, Berlin
Collection on Display, Aug. 30, 2014 - Nov. 9, 2014, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Swiss
40 Years Collection / 10 Years Museum Frieder Burda, July 12, 2014 - Oct. 26, 2014, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
Non basta ricordare. Collezione MAXXI, until Sep. 28, 2014, MAXXI_Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome, Italy
Zwischen Foto und Druck: Grafik von Andy Warhol bis Gerhard Richter, June 28, 2014 - Sep. 28, 2014, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Gerhard Richter, May 18, 2014 - Sep. 7, 2014, Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Swiss
Gerhard Richter: Post-war drawings and prints, until Aug. 31, 2014, The British Museum, London
Gerhard Richter, until July 27, 2014, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Schweiz
Kunst & Textil - Stoff als Material und Idee in der Moderne von Klimt bis heute, until June 22, 2014, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Gerhard Richter-Die Kunst im Plural, Feb. 15, 2014 - March 9, 2014, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Düsseldorf
Gerhard Richter: Panorama, June 6, 2012 - Sep. 24, 2012, Musée national d\'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Gerhard Richter. Dessins et travaux sur papier, June 7, 2012 - Sep. 17, 2012, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Gerhard Richter, April 27, 2012 - June 16, 2012, Beirut Art Center, Beirut, Libanon