Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Gerhard Richter
B. 1932
signed, dated 1997/99 and numbered 860-7 on the reverse
oil on Alu Dibond
100 by 90cm.; 39 3/8 by 35 3/8 in.
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Marian Goodman Gallery, New York 

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001


Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum; and Tilburg, De Pont Stichting voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Gerhard Richter: Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, neue Bilder, 2000, n.p., illustrated in colour

New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Gerhard Richter: New Paintings 1996-2001, 2001, n.p., no. 20, illustrated in colour

Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter: Image after Image, 2005, p. 57, no. 80, illustrated in colour


Helga Meister, 'Gerhard Richter: Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, neue Bilder', Kunstforum International, No. 151, July-September 2000, p. 344, illustrated in colour 

Exh. Cat., Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Gerhard Richter Werkverzeichnis 1993-2004, 2005, n.p., no. 860-7, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1999, Abstraktes Bild is a visually striking example of Gerhard Richter’s now-legendary tussle between additive and reductive painting techniques, in which chance, layering, erasure, and compositional counterpoint are wielded to sublime effect. Spectacular in its own profound gravity, the present work is part of an astounding corpus created in the 1990s, displaying a rich and condensed surface that could only be achieved at the culmination of years of experimentation. Following a diverse opus of artistic exploration, Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction began in 1976 and can be seen as the zenith of the manifold lines of artistic inquiry he famously pursued throughout his career, one in which he perpetually interrogated the nature of perception, the limits of representation, and the operations of visual cognition. Executed using quasi-mechanical scrapes and palimpsest-like layering of oil paint, the Abstrakte Bilder promulgate the possibility of exquisite lyrical painting with forensic detachment. Drawing the viewer in through its sensual palette and dense surface, the present work displays a rich mix of grey hues that are accentuated by the lustrous Alu Dibond surface.

Throughout Richter's oeuvre the use of grey has allowed the artist to investigate structural complexities in painting, and its return here in the form of a delicate and lavender infused painterly schema signals a transition in his interest, whilst preceding a body of work that would emerge in 2000 wherein the artist explored ways of looking behind appearances using scientific discoveries, as exemplified by the Silicate paintings.

With cumulative historical perspective, it is evident that Richter’s interrogation of abstract painting prolongs a critical line of art historical precedents, furthering the achievements of masters such as Rothko, Pollock and their Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. More specifically however, this painting appears to echo the minimalist project of American abstract painters Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin in telescoping the nuances of material texture and the subtitles of serene white tonalities. For this generation of painters, the ambition was to immerse the viewer in the evanescence of colour, subjecting them to a deeply emotional and extrasensory experience; what Robert Rosenblum once described as the 'Abstract Sublime’. As Rosenblum explained, the viewer stands in front of the great abstract painting with the same wonderment as the small figure depicted alone in front of a staggering landscape, a feeling also conveyed when one is similarly enveloped by the radiance of Richter’s compositions.

In Abstraktes Bild Richter truly perfected his technique of creating abstract pictures by submitting himself to the hypnotic rhythm of painting with the squeegee: a tool comprised of a lengthy piece of flexible Perspex fitted with a handle. The artist has widely explained his practice as formulaic; it is initiated by placing numerous empty canvases around his studio walls and completed by working on all of them simultaneously. Each surface is covered with a base coat of carefully refined paint using a large brush, after which the artist applies further paint either to the surface or directly onto the squeegee, which is then dragged across the picture plane. Depending on the drying time of the surface on which he paints and the pigment used, Richter leaves the work in progress and repeats the process until a compositional resolution presents itself.

Through this process Richter can work freely and allow his art to develop in front of him; it is not his conscious self who ultimately chooses its final form, but rather it is when he ‘senses’ his art to be complete, resulting in products of their own organic process. The multiple layers of paint contribute to the incredible complexity and depth of each work, an aspect exemplified by the interchangeability of light and dark swathes of colour that ultimately destabilises the viewer’s sense of perspective. When looking at the painting, the viewer's sense of depth is distorted, as the ability to distinguish the vicinity of each layer is altered; this forces our eyes to continuously readjust, to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data.

Fluidly painted on Alu Dibond – a composite comprising of a polyurethane core sandwiched between two sheets of aluminium – Abstraktes Bild is an exceptional example of Richter’s development within this working progress. What is ultimately achieved is a surface that contains no signs of conflict, but rather is formed by a set of free flowing and intuitive gestures; the squeegee adds and subtracts layers of paint to reveal sublime hints of light-purplish-grey as well as surprising hints of yellow. There is a palpable momentum and sense of dynamism inherent to this painting, derived from the artist's physical journey across the canvas as well as an absence of emotion or vigour, true to our traditional associations of grey ans white with neutrality. Yet it is clear that the use of this non-colour holds for Richter purifying and even therapeutic powers, pulling him back from an overwhelming indirection to a restrained lucidity. True to his profoundly coherent conceptual practice, Richter makes a seamless move from the personal to the impersonal, from the specific to the universal, and in doing so, reveals the inherent qualities of the painting itself.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction