Revered as one of Richter’s most significant abstract series to date, the six Cage paintings were first exhibited in the German Pavillion at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and were subsequently featured at the Tate Modern retrospective Panorama in 2011, later traveling to Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the Musee national d’art moderne, Paris. While on view in the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Cage works were strategically placed, facing another musically inspired series, Richter’s Bach paintings. Through this juxtaposition the cohesive underlying concepts and the contrasting individual sentiments became overtly apparent. The scale, textured surface, layering and erasure of Cage 6, made possible through the use of Richter’s illustrious squeegee, create the elusive visual equivalent of Cage’s syncopated percussions, whereas the Bach series evokes the triumphant harmony of a classical string quartet. In the words of Robert Storr at the conclusion of his book on the Cage series: “In his own idiom, and for his own reasons, [the Cage paintings] are Richter’s beautiful way of saying nothing, and as such, of once more declaring his uncompromising independence” (Robert Storr, Cage: Six Paintings by Gerhard Richter, London 2009, p. 86)
Though the squeegee technique that has become synonymous with Richter’s work may reveal the methods behind the original Cage 6 painting, the present work forces us to view the image under new circumstances – as fragmented variables that create a whole. Throughout Richter’s oeuvre, we witness abstract formulations vibrating and coming to life through chance, texture and saturated colour that derive from the artist’s absolute mastery of paint and adoption of unusual techniques. Inky greens, traces of vibrant teal, muted whites, and a smattering of bright yellow move across the surface as if echoing sound waves, yet the fragmentary arrangement of 16 parts at once becomes a metaphor for the modulation and digitization of music and an echo of the ‘16 bar blues’ which is considered by many to be the catalytic element that inspired modern music as we know it today.
It is testament to the genius of Richter that he can take a wild and passionate work like Cage 6 and transform it into something even more harmonious by utterly changing how it can be perceived. Engulfed within a grid with countless permutations, the sixteen giclee prints allow one to endlessly examine the myriad of arrangements and minute details on offer. The striations and smears of malleable paint of the original are reduced to a sheer two dimensions, separated only by negative space that serves to examine the nature of painting itself. These Cage works are not only a tremendous achievement of visual art, they also hold powerful personal resonance with the artist who – in response to Nicholas Serota’s inquiry that linked Vermeer, Bach, and Cage –justly explained the series as being “neither contrived, nor surprising and smart, not baffling, not witty, not interesting, not cynical. It can’t be planned and it probably can’t even be described. It’s just good” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter. Panorama. A Retrospective, 2011, p. 17).
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