- Gerhard Richter
- signed, dated 1974 and numbered 362/4 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 40 by 37 3/4 in. 101.6 by 95.9 cm.
Christie's, London, December 4, 1996, Lot 57
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Exh. Cat., New York, Marian Goodman Gallery and Sperone Westwater, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1987, pp. 5-6 (text)
Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter. Werkübersicht / Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, 1993, n.p., no. 362-4, illustrated
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 449 (text)
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Richter began his exploration of grey in 1967, starting with a set of three canvases that contrasted rectangles of varied grisailles tones. By 1968 he began working on what can be seen as the conceptual end point of this enquiry with a style exemplified in the present work. Each of the Grau paintings utilize a single and unique mid-grey tone, applied with individually stylized brushwork. Richter evokes the spiritualistic engagement with unvariegated pigment that was pioneered by Yves Klein’s monochromes and the International Klein Blue; however, by reverting to a vacant and unemotional mid-grey, Richter abets any visceral reaction. Enlivening the work with captivating brushwork he instead considers the medium’s essential ontology, free of color or representation. Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter’s personal history was inevitably marred by the Nazi movement and their pillaging of the art historical canon. With the pain of rigorous ideology and symbolic didacticism haunting him since his youth, the artist’s conceptual journey entailed separating painting from the weight of social or political associations. He desired to focus his viewer’s eye on the wonder of the pure image rather than its reference. This profoundly honest plight finds its apotheosis in the Grau paintings.
In grey Richter saw the neutrality of photography that remains the most important influence on his representational practice. As the artist noted: “Grey. It makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible nor invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other color has, to make 'nothing' visible.” (Gerhard Richter, Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 91) Whilst grey overwhelmed early photography, in naturalistic figurative painting often it has taken a secondary role, connoting shadow if anything at all. Composed of black and white, which both lack the vivaciousness of color, Richter takes grey as a ground to explore absence. The artist has commented further on these paintings: “I want them to be seen as narratives - even if they are narratives of nothingness. Nothing is something. You might say they are like photographs of nothing.” (the artist cited in Michael Kimmelman, "Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms," The New York Times, January 27, 2002) As such, the present work is part of Richter’s greatest challenge within painting: to allow the finished canvas to stand alone without subject matter or tonal form. Like a clouded mirror that defies its original purpose, Grau does not reflect an external reality, but rather creates an entirely cohesive reality of its own.