Jill Lloyd, "Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings" in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p.
Conjuring a captivating vista of shimmering chromatic light and electrifying color, Gerhard Richter’s exquisite A B, Tower stands as a paragon of the aesthetic, conceptual, and profoundly referential capacities of abstract painting. Belonging to the group of abstract paintings created for Richter’s 1988 show The London Paintings at Anthony d’Offay Gallery—his first major commercial exhibition in London—A B, Tower exemplifies the artist’s revered corpus of early Abstrakte Bilder. Acquired by the present owner directly from d’Offay in 1988, A B, Tower has remained in the same collection since the year after its debut in the The London Paintings. Indefatigably tied to their host city, the London Paintings reference a direct geographic connection in alluding to the central district in the City of Westminster; each of the extant thirteen works in this ground-breaking series is named after the various towers of the Tower of London and the chapels of Westminster Abbey, providing a sense of place that roots the abstract handling of paint in the real world. Testament to the remarkable caliber of this series, a number of these paintings now reside in prestigious museum collections across the globe: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Tate, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and La Caixa Foundation, Barcelona. A near transcendent fusion of sublime abstraction and exquisite specificity, A B Tower supremely embodies the fine line between objective distance and subjective expression that is the defining conceptual inquiry of Richter’s inimitable oeuvre.
Conjuring a mixture of evocations that complexly negotiate the ecclesiastical and cultural references inherent to its namesake, A B, Tower is the radical heir to an illustrious art historical legacy. Famous precedents include Paul Delaroche’s iconic painting of The Execution of Lady Jane Grey of 1833, J.M.W. Turner’s spectacular renderings of the infamous 1841 fire at the Tower of London, and, of course, the sublimely atmospheric views of Monet’s Houses of Parliament, amongst innumerable others. Describing his relationship to art history in the year preceding the execution of the present work, Richter remarked: “I do see myself as the heir to a vast, great, rich culture of painting – of art in general – which we have lost, but which places obligations on us. And it is no easy matter to avoid either harking back to the past or (equally bad) giving up altogether and sliding into decadence.” (The artist cited in: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, London, 1995, p. 148) Confronting a subject immortalized within these art historical canons – from landscape to history painting – A B, Tower invokes the stately dignity and profound import of such venerated precedents, while simultaneously entirely eschewing objective representation altogether. Indeed, far from performing a narrative function, these names operate within an intensely imaginative dimension rooted in Richter’s experience and anticipation of his London exhibition. In the catalogue essay for The London Paintings, Jill Lloyd describes: “The rich and spectacular appearance of the new abstract work…is the result of this complex balancing act of process, that extends over a period of time and is broken by periods of inactivity and consideration, when Richter physically and emotionally steps back from the compelling presence of his work.” (Jill Lloyd in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p.) 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 cited in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 267) Possessing an atmospheric power connected to famous British architectural monuments and affecting a viewing experience that evokes the shimmering Impressionism of Monet, A B, Tower sublimely registers beyond our sphere of cognition to deliver a rich poetic riposte to the sights and sounds of historic London.
Though entirely disconnected from referentiality in both method and conception, the London Paintings nevertheless elusively evoke natural forms and color configurations. From beneath strident kaleidoscopic veils of fiery scarlet, verdant green, and sumptuous orange, a shimmering underlayer of silvery pigment conjures the effects of photographic exposure, a quality compounded by the out-of-focus consistency in the sweeping accretions of paint. Achieved through Richter’s unrivaled mastery of his preferred painterly tool – the squeegee – the layered excavation and resonant accumulation of gossamer color imparts an eroded surface reminiscent of myriad natural forms. Like a sunset, glorious and luminescent in reflecting the chromatic intensity of stunning optical effects, Richter’s canvas evokes the beauty frequently called forth by the contingency of natural phenomena: “amid the paintings’ scraped and layered pigments” describes Robert Storr, “shoals, riptides and cresting waves” reinforce an impression of venturing beyond abstraction (Robert Storr cited in Ibid., p. XIII). Such a reading is very much linked to Richter’s methodological dialogue with chance. Dragged across an expanse of canvas, the pressure and speed of Richter’s application ultimately surrenders to the unpredictability of chance in informing composition and color. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings, and most notably the London Paintings, with their inherently natural look. The shimmering and harmoniously artful orchestration of paint within A B, Tower vacillates between an act of intense evocation and a simultaneous effacement of painterly form: ingrained within the present work’s destructive and unpredictable formation is an undeniable reflection of nature itself.
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