Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as ultimate culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison. His prodigious artistic output has earned unparalleled international acclaim, and over the course of a fifty-year career his work has been honored with numerous retrospectives by the most prestigious institutions. In the past five years alone there have been seventy-six major solo exhibitions of Richter’s work held in over twenty countries around the world, from the United States to Japan, Brazil to Switzerland, and Mexico to South Korea. In recent years these have famously included shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, the Musée du Louvre and Centre Georges Pompidou in addition to many others.
Benjamin Buchloh has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content in Richter’s abstract paintings, so that any evocation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence: "the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system." (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Ibid., pp. 23-24) Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture, this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural phenomena, this work derives at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us, if only elusively, to a reading of figuration.
Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture... I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36) With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Indeed, Richter’s creation necessitated a conscious suspension of the artist’s artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new juxtapositions that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was achieved. Within this process, grounds of arresting pigment were applied only to be effaced and drawn out by large track-like strokes. Although spontaneous in their lyrical grandeur, these overlaid marks were in fact cerebrally labored. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Indeed, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richter’s abstract works prove that which cannot be articulated: “Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable.” (Birgit Pelzer, "The Tragic Desire" in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 118)
Gerhard Richter's artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of our era, his inimitably diverse canon evidencing more than five decades of philosophical enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Indeed, with its poignant critical reflections and groundbreaking advancements, it is undeniable that his output has opened up a wealth of possibilities for the future course of art history. Since the early 1960s he has engaged manifold genres of painting, delving into and pushing the boundaries of theoretical and aesthetic levels of understanding whilst exploring and challenging the fundamentals of their development. However, his extraordinary odyssey into the realm of abstract painting is often regarded as the culmination of his artistic and conceptual enquiries into the foundations of visual understanding. After decades of exploring the role of painting in relation to competing visual cultures; film and photography and even painting itself, the emergence of the Abstraktes Bild stands as the crowning achievement of his oeuvre. As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh has highlighted, and as there can be absolutely no doubt, Richter's position within the canon of abstraction is one of “incontrovertible centrality.” (Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Large Abstracts, 2009, p. 9)
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