Art Index: Gerhard Richter
Article written by Alessandro Berni on March 26, 2021
“To talk about paintings is not only difficult but perhaps pointless too. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing - what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.”
- Gerhard Richter
Since the beginning of his career, the German artist has been investigating the nature of images in the era of globalization, where the boundaries between reality and its reproduction are blurred.
The use of photography as a source of inspiration is closely linked to the choice of an objective and detached view of reality and its representation.
Richter's painting, however, is highly expressive, as it is rich in nuances and intense brushstrokes that contradict the mechanical nature of technical reproduction.
The first Fotobilder (photographic paintings), inaugurated by Tisch in 1962, were born from this research. On amateur photographs, images taken from the news and advertising, the artist intervenes with oil paint.
Among the works related to photography, various thematic cycles can be distinguished:
Stadtbilder (City views), Landschaften (Landscapes), Gebirge (Mountains), Seestücke (Marine), Wolken (Clouds). The source of inspiration for these paintings is Atlas, a monumental collection of sketches, collages and above all photographs of historical, political and social events, but also scenes of life daily family, collected by the artist since the sixties.
In 1972 he represented Germany at the 36th Venice Biennale with 48 portraits based on photos of famous men. Like Andy Warhol, Richter “mechanized” his production, making canvases from “ready-made” images and using the “scraping” technique. In the 1980s, his first abstract works – invariably titled Asbtraktes Bild – added a new dimension to the colorfields of American Abstract Expressionism (Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, etc.). In the early 2000s, his traveling exhibition Forty Years of Painting (curator: Robert Storr) was highly acclaimed at the MoMA. He subsequently became one of the most important painters of his generation and his prices rocketed.
Nearly all of Richter's work demonstrates both illusionistic space that seems natural and the physical activity and material of painting—as mutual interferences. For Richter, reality is the combination of new attempts to understand—to represent; in his case, to paint—the world surrounding us. Richter's opinions and perspectives on his own art, and that of the larger art market and various artistic movements, are compiled in a chronological record of "Writings" and interviews. The following quotes are excerpts from the compilation:
"I am a Surrealist."
"My sole concern is the object. Otherwise I would not take so much trouble over my choice of subjects; otherwise I would not paint at all."
"My concern is never art, but always what art can be used for.
Richter introduced abstraction to his repertoire in the following decades, analyzing painterly expression through a technique of squeegeeing paint over the canvas.
The artist currently lives and works in Cologne, Germany. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Albertina in Vienna, among others.
Between 2011 and 2018, 23 of his works fetched sums above the $20 million threshold. One of them, acquired in 1999 for $607,500 (Abstraktes Bild, Sotheby’s, 18 May 1999) resold for $46.3 million at Sotheby’s in 2015.
Distribution by price (by Artprice)
There are multiple artworks by Richter that are currently listed in upcoming public auctions, some of which include:
Cage (P19-1) (2006)