Lot 217
  • 217

Gerhard Richter

350,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild
  • signed, dated 1988 and numbered 686-2 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 10 1/2 by 13 5/8 in. 26.7 by 34.5 cm.


Galerie Jean Bernier, Athens
Karsten Schubert Ltd., London
Penine Hart Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1990


Athens, Galerie Jean Bernier, Gerhard Richter, May - June 1989
New York, Penine Hart Gallery, Radiant Principle, January 1990


Angelika Thill, et. al., Gerhard Richter: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. lll, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, cat. no. 686-2, n.p., illustrated in color
Jean Bernier-Marina Eliades Gallery, Jean Bernier Gallery 1977-1998, Athens, 1998, n.p., illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern; Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; Paris, Centre Pompidou, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, October 2011 - September 2012, p. 136


This work is in excellent condition overall. The canvas is unlined. Under Ultraviolet light inspection, there is no evidence of restoration. Framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A stunning exemplar of Gerhard Richter’s marvelous and arresting art of abstraction, Abstraktes Bild (686-2), 1988 is instantly captivating. Chronologically situated at the beginning of his seminal 1988-1992 period, during which his practice reached new heights, the present work displays the achievement and maturity of Richter’s technique on a smaller, more intimate scale. Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture, this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. Operating under the competing ideologies of precision and abstract expressionism, Richter succeeds in creating a work that is both logical and visceral. Its complexity of texture and color combines with Richter’s convergence of precision and chaos to create a spiritually affecting experience for the viewer. While this process of production is on display, it actively 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.

Gerhard Richter has dedicated a life’s worth of artistic intent to ‘paint like a camera’. Since his breakthrough during the early 1960s with the renowned series of spectacularly verisimilar yet blurred paintings of black and white photographs, Richter has ceaselessly sought new ways to extend the legitimacy and veracity of the painted image. Herein, the Abstrakte Bilder represent the very furthest point in Richter’s practice: the realization of an abstraction that echoes the automated immediacy of a photograph. By wielding a squeegee as the principle creative tool, Richter pioneered a dialogue with chance that weights the decisions of the painter and physics of exertion against the reactivity of materials. The ensuing results have imparted some of the most arresting and chromatically spectacular abstract compositions of the late Twentieth and early Twenty First Centuries.

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. The element of experimentation and chance is an absolute necessity 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, we witness a potent confluence of artistic forces evolving in the present work.

In addition to this merging of chance and precision that Gerhard Richter undertakes in each of his Abstrakte Bilder, Benjamin Buchloh, one of the most celebrated art historians of our time, has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content, so that any elicitation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence: "the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system." (Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, pp. 23-24)

Simultaneously revealing and concealing exquisite chromatic layers, Abstraktes Bild (686-2) bespeaks Richter’s mastery of the squeegee method on a gem-like and intimate scale. The distinctive technique results in this intricate visual phenomenon, enabling us to perceive the vibrant hues of red, blue and yellow as simultaneously blended together and independent of one another, beneath the horizontal striation and vibrato shuttering of cold grey pigment. The effect is halting in its beauty, depth, and texture.