Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Holly Solomon Gallery, New York
Sale: Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art (Part I), 20 November 1996, Lot 56
Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Zurich
Schönewald Fine Arts, Xanten / Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
Private Collection, Switzerland
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2013
Angelika Thill, et. al., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, n.p., no. 562-2, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. III, Ostfildern 2013, p. 422, no. 562-2, illustrated in colour
The present work is one of only two paintings articulated in identical dimensions and designated 562 within the artist’s methodical and ordered production. The preceding work in this enigmatic pair is Holländische Seeschlacht (Dutch Sea Battle), which is numbered 562-1. Here a silvery shimmering sea appears to dominate the foreground, merging into a misty haze of soft blue that could easily be mistaken for a cool night sky; an idea enforced and enhanced by the work’s nautical name. Less occluded than the present work, this maritime work sets the scene for the tumultuous vision presented in Abstraktes Bild (562-2). These two works are linked by the glistening silvery expanses that populate both works’ left hand corners and the great streak of black paint to the right hand side that thrusts the viewer’s eye up into the vortex of flurried paintbrush marks that inhabit the upper register of the canvas. Visually we are instantly reminded of the artist’s iconic Seestück (Seascapes) that he began to create in 1969, some fifteen years before Abstraktes Bild was conceived. Indeed, it is this constant intrigue to find recognisable form in the extraordinary melange of colour that the artist believes denotes his most interesting paintings: “We only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us. I see something and in my head I compare it and try to find out what it relates to. And usually we do find those similarities and name them: table, blanket, and so on. When we don't find anything, we are frustrated and that keeps us excited and interested” (Gerhard Richter in interview with Robert Storr, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 304).
To create the tantalising, multifaceted surface of the present work was a meticulous and extremely planned process. Speaking in 1984, the very same year he created Abstraktes Bild, Richter clarified: "A picture like this is painted in different layers, separated by intervals of time. The first layer mostly represents the background, which has a photographic, illusionistic look to it, though done without using a photograph. This first, smooth, soft-edged paint surface is like a finished picture; but after a while I decide that I understand it or have seen enough of it, and in the next stage of painting I partly destroy it, partly add to it; and so it goes on at intervals, till there is nothing more to do and the picture is finished. By then it is a Something which I understand in the same way it confronts me, as both incomprehensible and self-sufficient… It is a highly planned kind of spontaneity" (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, London, 1995, p. 112).
Perfectly conjoining the smoothly wrought “photographic, illusionstic” background of the present work with its turbulent foreground, Abstraktes Bild is as heterogeneous as it is complex. Standing as the ultimate encapsulation of Richter’s early corpus of Abstrakte Bilder, the present work is utterly pioneering and endlessly captivating, demanding the viewer to delve deep within its palimpsest surface to find the familiar.
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