Gerhard Richter’s artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of his era, and his abstract works represent the furthest limit in his lifelong pioneering scrutiny of painting. His art has persistently engaged in a critical dialogue with the historical conception of painting – tackling since the early 1960s the declaration of painting’s death, heralded by Marcel Duchamp and his Modernist peers. With his early photo-paintings, Richter instigated a groundbreaking re-examination of painting in the face of technological means of mass production. Flawlessly blurred while the pigment remained wet, the photo-paintings bridged the gap between abstract painting and photographic figuration. In the present work the sheen of immaculate color and endless permutations signify the photographic referent, mimicking the aesthetic of a cibachrome print – the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary riposte to the canon of abstraction via the mechanical and the aleatory.
An element of chance is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of Richter’s abstracts. As the artist has himself explained, “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) Thus, with its equal dependence on chance and precision, a potent confluence of artistic forces is realized in the present work.
Numbered 682-3 in Richter’s Catalogue Raisonné, the present work is the third of a series of four similarly hued abstracts that compose the 682 group. Though all four of the 682 paintings boast a delicate palette of soft gray underlying primaries of red, blue, green, and yellow, the particular patterning in the present work truly sets it apart. A glowing gray tone, reminiscent of the palette of the photo-paintings, shines through at the top and bottom edges of the canvas, framing the sublime chaos that emerges from the interplay between the various layers of applied pigment. The resulting image encapsulates Richter’s theory that with abstraction, “there is no order, everything is dissolved, more revolutionary, anarchistic.” (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 108)
The present work’s complexity of texture and color combines with Richter’s convergence of precision and chaos to create an affecting experience for the viewer. Operating under the competing ideologies of precision and abstract expressionism, Richter succeeded in creating a work that is both logical and visceral. The process of production is on display, but spars with the emotional resonance and evocative powers of the colors and forms that result from pure chance. These aesthetic and experiential factors coalesce to present a masterwork of Richter’s artistic and philosophical achievement.
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