Galerie René Block, Berlin
Galerie von Loeper, Hamburg
Galerie Six Friedrich, Munich
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1972
René Block, Ed., Graphik des Kapitalistischen Realismus, Berlin 1971, p. 38, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Venice, Venice Biennale, XXXVI Biennale di Venezia: Padiglione Tedesco, Gerhard Richter, 1972, p. 67, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Paris, Musée National d’art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Gerhard Richter, 1977, p. 47, no. 9, illustrated
Jürgen Harten, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, Cologne 1986, p. 75, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Vienna, Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Abstrakte Malerei aus Amerika und Europa, 1988, p. 116, illustrated
Angelika Thill et al., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, n.p., no. 179-1, illustrated in colour
Rainer Metzger, ‘Flächenland. Anmerkungen zu Gerhard Richter’s Arbeit an der Evidenz', Noema, January-March 1999, p. 42, illustrated
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2011, p. 364, no. 179-1, illustrated in colour
In the year the present work was conceived, Richter and his close friend Sigmar Polke collaborated on an offset lithograph titled Transformation (Umwandlung) that documented the dissolution of a craggy mountain-top into a sphere. Echoing this performative collaboration, the present work similarly appropriates an image and transforms it into the artist’s subjective vision to transcend the laws of nature and reshape the world according to one’s own views. Painting after anonymous source photographs, Richter chose a seemingly impersonal and neutral subject such as mountains to emphasise his interest in the pure objectivity of the photographic image and its painterly manipulation. The juxtaposition of figurative and abstract qualities in the present work not only references Richter’s preceding portrait paintings, for which he dragged a dry paintbrush over his painted surfaces to achieve a blurred image, but also heralds the artist’s gradual move into full abstraction. By the end of the 1960s, Richter had fully pushed the textural and compositional boundaries of the grey palette, a shade that defined his early 1960s works and culminated in his celebrated abstract series of Grey paintings. Commenting on the qualities of grey, Richter pointed out that “it makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible nor invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other colour has, to make 'nothing' visible” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Dietmar Elger and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter, TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters: 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 92).
Richter’s choice of naturalistic subject evokes art-historical references, in particular the Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner, who favoured the mountain view as an idealistic retreat to convey a new appreciation for spirituality and sublimity. While the Romantic movement grew out of material disillusionment and sought to re-establish the spiritual self through a contemplation of nature, Richter’s landscape paintings were situated in a period of economic prosperity during the post-war years, a period also known as the German Wirtschaftswunder. In contrast to the strong and powerful colours of the Romantic era, Richter’s restrained palette interrogates the subjective and emotive qualities of a historically significant motif and its perception within a shifting socio-economic context.
By detaching landscape painting from a true experience of nature, Gebirge allows for a contemporary interpretation whereby the rising monochromatic mountains, with their isolated, pixel-like brushstrokes, arguably anticipate the graphic aesthetic of digital computer maps. Similar to Richter’s paintings in which figurative and abstract aspects are combined, the pixelated images from software such as Google Earth present a diluted view of the landscape the more one zooms in on the satellite images. The ultimately anonymous and alienated digital exploration of geographical territory through a screen is reminiscent of Richter’s own impersonal experience of mountain views through anonymous photo sources, some of them depicting regions as far away as the Himalayas. Thus, rather than aligning himself with the historic Romantic ideology of transforming the classic mountain motif into an allegorical landscape of metaphorical dimensions, Richter challenges our perception of what it means to look at and actually experience nature. By further refusing to treat abstraction and image-based painting as separate practices, Gebirge lies at the very core of Richter’s early oeuvre and is testament to his long-lasting belief in the conceptual and expressive potency of painting.
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