“In Richter’s work there is a demonstration of the ways in which painting’s resources are constantly replenished by the very problems it seems to pose, both for the painter and the viewer. Nobody in our own time has posed them better or solved them more inventively than Richter.” (Glenn D. Lowry, Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 7)
Thrumming in chords of deep red pigment, and exploding across the monumental and perfectly square canvas, Abstraktes Bild epitomizes the brilliant resolution of Gerhard Richter’s ceaseless explorations into the limits of representation and nature of perception. Richter’s peerless formal execution and prodigious output have earned him unparalleled international recognition and acclaim; over the course of over fifty years, his work has been celebrated with numerous retrospectives by the most prestigious museums worldwide, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Modern, London, the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Considered one of today’s greatest living artists, Richter continues to push the boundaries of painting, engaging his viewers in an ever-changing and intriguing intellectual dialogue. Abstraktes Bild represents a crescendo in Richter’s career, when the artist reached new heights in his technical investigation of his practice, one that casts doubt on the tradition of painting, mimetic accuracy, and aesthetic authenticity. One of just four works in this suite of brilliant red abstract paintings, the present work possesses exquisite provenance, having been acquired at Galerie Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert, Paris shortly following its execution, and appearing publicly today for the first time since its inclusion in Gerhard Richter, an internally exhibited survey of the artist’s work, from 1993–1994.
Stunning in its chromatic vibrancy, Abstraktes Bild stuns the viewer in waves of scarlet, punctuated by crests and ridges of maroon, flecks of white and pulls of crimson paint in an entirely abstract composition that nevertheless creates a powerful sensation of distance and perspective. Heavily saturated layers of streaked, squeegeed and pulled oil paint become a record of the artist’s time and process, the strata of pigment caught in a perpetually dynamic stasis of flickering light and shadow. A vibration of movement ricochets throughout this painting, a simulacrum of a horizon line stilting the vertical strums of dark maroon. Richter’s genius lies in his brilliant synthesis of chance coupled with a definitive artistic gesture; over the period of the present work’s execution, Abstraktes Bild underwent several iterations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint introduced new bends and spreads of color. Gesturing expansively with his hard-edged squeegee, Richter purposely drew the paint across the surface in controlled drags, yet lacked foresight as to the translucency or saturation of the veils in his squeegee’s wake, introducing an element of spontaneity. The exuberant strata of paint bear the ghosts of previous accretions and color juxtapositions applied, erased, remade and obliterated over again, realizing Richter’s artistic ideology of his Abstrakte Bilder: “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) The constant erasure and denial of formal resolution evokes a reading of natural phenomena and a spontaneous naturalism; unlike Richter’s Photo Paintings that fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us, if only elusively, to figuration. The variegated surface of Abstraktes Bild creates a dynamic visual experience and forges a portrait of temporal genius, one that forces the viewer to constantly refocus due to the overwhelming assault of pictorial data.
Throughout his career, Richter has questioned the reliability of painting and its function, beginning in a time when the medium itself had been completely eclipsed in favor of new and more innovative artistic techniques. Richter himself noted: “I was out of fashion for a long time after the early 1960s work, and painting itself was unfashionable too.” (The artist in an interview with Richard Cork, “Gerhard Richter: A Divided German,” Apollo, London, January 1992, p. 49) Yet even today, Richter’s cerebral probing into the purpose and merits of painting remain relevant, challenging, and insightful. Moving seamlessly from the representational to the abstract, Richter’s corpus has continued to defy traditional classification, instead surging forth, as in the present work, into an entirely new genre of Postmodernism. Within the dramatic arena of Abstraktes Bild, Richter lays bare his distrust of the grand theories of the gestural painting that revolutionized the canon in the 1950s, while simultaneously calling these new ideologies into question through the lens of abstract painting itself. The present work reverberates in a torrent of vivid red pigment that not only evokes all-encompassing canvases from post-war masters such as Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, but also oscillates between the possibility of verisimilitude and an entirely transcendental and sublime experience.
Richter’s unprecedented abstraction stands as the ultimate culmination of his epic artistic journey, during which he has challenged the very nature and purpose of painting through the medium itself. Evoking the highest quality of artistic prowess and dexterity with his technique perhaps only reached by such masters as Claude Monet, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, Abstraktes Bild stands among the pinnacle achievements of this prolific artist’s career.
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