- Gerhard Richter
- signed and numbered 8/8 on a label affixed to the reverse
- jacquard woven tapestry
- 276 by 378cm.; 108 5/8 by 148 7/8 in.
- This work is number 8 from an edition of 8, plus 2 artist’s proofs.
London, Gagosian Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Tapestries, 2013, another example exhibited, n.p., illustrated in colour
Munich, Kunstbau München, Gerhard Richter: Atlas – Mikromega, 2013-14, another example exhibited
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Gerhard Richter – Die Kunst im Plural, 2014, another example exhibited
Exhibition Catalogue, Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Kunst & Textil: Stoff als Material und Idee in der Moderne von Klimt bis heute, 2014, p. 272 (text)
Gerhard Richter quoted in: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richard: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 17.
A substantial degree of Gerhard Richter’s work of the past seven years can be traced to one modestly sized abstract painting. Executed in 1990, numbered 724-4, and measuring only 92 by 126cm., this single canvas is phenomenally important and manifold in its significance. It is the very origin of the present work. Abdu from 2009 belongs to Richter’s edition of monumental woven tapestries of which there are four different incarnations. An archaic artform that dates back over a thousand years, from the Cloth of St Gereon, through the Bayeaux Tapestry and perhaps most celebrated in the Renaissance masterpieces by Raphael, Richter’s woven murals strike the viewer as a Twenty-First Century reinvention of a revered historical tradition. Constructed through totally mechanical means, a pattern programmed into a digital loom, the tapestry is perhaps the ultimate extension of Richter’s lifelong pursuit of a painting devoid of the human hand. However, these works are more than a straight transposition of Richter’s inimitable abstract dialogue; the veiling and paroxysmal exposures of squeegeed oil paint unique to 724-4 are made complicated. In Abdu the top left quadrant of Richter’s source painting has been mirrored to create a kaleidoscopic schema that conjures up the artist’s formative fascination with glass and the reflectivity of mirrors. Similarly, this engagement is intrinsic to the artist’s most recent project: Patterns (2011). Situated at its very core, 724-4 is the root of an ambitious and highly conceptual extension of Richter’s career long scrutiny of the practice of painting and the act of looking in the post-modern age.
Named Musa, Yusuf, Iblan and Abdu, all four tapestries are derived from Richter’s small abstract from 1990. Taking on the appearance of a Rorschach test, their double-mirroring delivers a hyped-up double layering of chance, a new composition derived entirely through reflection and repetition, woven from a spectrum of silk threads. The result is a kaleidoscope of rich patternation, a chaos of utter chromatic abandon within an intricate topography of infinitesimal stitches. Corresponding to his dissection of the practice of painting, Richter has unpicked the fundaments of tapestry and rewoven it into a commentary on the art of chance and the portent of reflection. In the words of the artist: “It’s not that I’m always thinking about how to make something timeless, it’s more of a desire to maintain a certain artistic quality that moves us, that goes beyond what we are, and that is, in that sense, timeless” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Nicholas Serota, ‘I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It: Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicholas Serota, Spring 2011’, Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 15).
A fascination entrenched in that classic art historical meditation on the relationship between the act of painting and the act of looking – perhaps most famously expounded by Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas – Richter’s dialogue with reflection was notably telescoped in the 1988 painting Betty, the portrait of Richter’s daughter looking at one of her father’s Grey Paintings, and the 1967 installation Four Panes of Glass. In the tapestries, however, and more dramatically in the series of patterns that would precede them in 2011, the physical reflection of 724-4 becomes a mechanical process of division, mirroring and repetition on a scale that stretches into infinity.
In Richter’s Patterns the original painting is sequentially divided in relation to a mathematical sequence. Denoted by the formula 2ⁿ, the sequence follows the successive multiplication of each integer to the power of 2; the result of which is the ensuing binary pattern: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096 and so forth. Richter first hinted at the importance of this mathematical formula during the early 1970s with his series of Colour Charts. Informed by 2ⁿ, works entitled 180, 256, and 1024 Farben feature a grid of coloured quadrilaterals amounting to the number designated by the title; importantly the colour of each square or rectangle was not chosen but was rather selected at random. Concurrent with the Grey Paintings, these works represent Richter’s first marked concession to a form of anti-painting. This radical privileging of chance and measured erasure of gesture and artistic agency herein facilitated – via a discovery of the squeegee method – Richter’s progression into pure abstraction from the late 1970s. 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. In the present tapestry, and the body of work that stems from 724-4, this conceit is taken to its furthest most limitations. With these works Richter proposes an ultimate distillation of his art, a mathematical formula for painterly abstraction that hints at an infinite fractal universe.