- Gerhard Richter
- Abstraktes Bild
- signed, dated 1990 and inscribed 713-1 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
Private Collection, Düsseldorf (acquired from the above)
Christie's, London, 24 June 2005, Lot 177
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1988-1994, Volume IV, Ostfildern 2015, no. 713-1, p. 282, illustrated in color
A harmonious interplay of texture, color, structure and chance are deployed to sublime effect in Abstraktes Bild. Across the primed canvas, Richter streaked and smeared passages of semi-liquid material, fusing and dividing tracts of oil paint. The shadows of the medium’s former malleability are caught now in a perpetually-dynamic stasis; cast as staccato ridges, crests, and peaks of impasto that punctuate an underlying fluidity in variously pronounced chromatic contrast. This interchangeability of light and dark hues in the foreground and background of the present work results in an extreme textural topography. The nature of the object constantly transforms with our shifting perspective and an ever-changing play of light across it. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data. Additional scrapes, smudges, and incisions in all directions carry us forward and back, beyond even the furthermost reaches of color and pigment in a way reminiscent of Fontana’s slashes and scything deconstruction of the picture plane into the infinity of space beyond. The sum of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction is a record of time itself within the paint layers: the innumerable levels of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis.
Though entirely disconnected from reference to both method and conception, Richter’s abstractions nevertheless evoke natural forms and color configurations. We cannot help but ascribe meaning to the complexity of their layered compositions. As outlined by the artist: “The paintings gain their life from our desire to recognize something in them. At every point they suggest similarities with real appearances, which then, however, never really materialize” (the artist in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 267). The predication of this telling effect is rooted in the artist’s unique painterly method, and particularly in his chosen depictive tool: the squeegee. The layered excavation and resonant accumulation of color engendered by the tool imparts an eroded surface reminiscent of myriad natural forms: sunsets, sunrises, shoals, riptides, and cresting waves.
Such a reading of the present work is very much linked to the artist’s methodological dialogue with chance. As the squeegee is dragged across an expanse of canvas, the pressure and speed of Richter’s application of paint ultimately surrenders to the unpredictability of chance in informing the composition. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings with their inherently natural look. The shimmering and harmoniously artful orchestration of paint within Abstraktes Bild oscillates between an act of intense evocation and a simultaneous effacement of painterly form: ingrained within the work’s destructive and unpredictable formation is a reflection of nature itself. As outlined by the scholar Beate Söntgen, Richter’s method “joins the painted traces of the tools together with the layering and intersections of color to form structures that are figural or landscape in appearance, without ever solidifying into an object that is once again recognizable” (Beate Söntgen, ‘Work on the Picture: The Discretion of Gerhard Richter,’ in: Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig Cologne, Gerhard Richter: Abstrakte Bilder, 2008, p. 37).
As many scholars of Richter’s work have pointed out, it is apt to note that the collective title for the abstract paintings, Abstrakte Bilder, is not a straightforward translation; rather, the closest equivalent to the original German is Abstract Pictures: by his own admission, Richter is not creating paintings but instead making images. The abstract works thus fill a post-photographic painterly image space originally forged within the blur of the Photo Paintings and fully articulated in the squeegee abstractions. As art historian Peter Osborne outlines: “Richter’s abstract images are images of this image space itself. In this respect they are still ‘photo paintings’, but in an ontologically deeper sense than the phrase conveys when used as a designation for the earlier, more particularistically ‘photo-based’ work'" (Peter Osborne, "Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting" in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter, Cambridge 1996, p. 109). The present Abstraktes Bild is a consummate example of the type of ‘videotic’ effect mentioned by Osborne. Via a crackling, distortive fuzz redolent within miraculous sheens of color, this painting's purely abstract field of painterly variation unmistakably bears the mark of televisual opticality. Having sought new ways to paint that rally against “redundant” figuration and the “inflated subjectivism, idealism, and existential weightlessness” of Modernist abstraction, Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder depict an assertion of abstract painting, not only in the face of photography which lies at the root of painting’s crisis, but immersed in its digital glow (Peter Osborne, “Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives," October, Vol. 62, Autumn 1992, p. 104).
Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as the ultimate culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Monet’s translation of his garden at Giverny, Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Kline’s structural expressionism, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison.