GERHARD RICHTER | 1025 Farben
- Gerhard Richter
- 1025 Farben
- signed, dated 1974 and numbered 357/2 on the reverse
- lacquer on canvas
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1976)
Sotheby’s, New York, 14 May 2008, Lot 12 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exh. Cat. (and catalogue raisonné), Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter: 1962-1993, December 1993 - February 1994, n.p., no. 357-2, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1968-1976, Vol. II, Ostfildern 2017, p. 589, no. 357-2, illustrated in colour
There is no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the autonomous units of colour in Richter’s iconic corpus of Colour Charts. Through a process-based random arrangement of colour, the artist offered the viewer an elaborate interplay between Conceptual 'model' and arbitrary 'choice'. Indeed, when he first began to make these paintings, Richter had his friend Blinky Palermo randomly call out colours, which Richter then adopted for his work. Chance thus plays a key role in their creation, even though the surfaces of the Colour Charts seem so deliberate and systematic. As the artist has stated: “The arrangement of the colour tones in the fields was coincidental, so as to achieve a diffuse, indifferent overall effect and thus permit exciting details. The rigid screen prevents the formation of figurations, although these can be made visible if an effort is made. This type of artificial naturalism is an aspect which fascinates me” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Roald Nasgaard, Gerhard Richter, Chicago 1988, p. 77). Seemingly in response to the Minimal tendencies of much of the art of that period, Richter subsequently abandoned the original paint chart pretext and created a mechanically progressive series of grids where the colour of each square was chosen according to a law of random permutations. The range of the colours he employed was determined by a mathematical system for mixing primary colours in graduated amounts. Each colour was then randomly ordered to create the resultant composition and form of the painting. The artist’s interest in arrangements of colour, whether random or mathematical, calls to mind Ellsworth Kelly's Spectrum series. Both artists were concerned with colour as form, abandoning the traditional use of colour as representational. Damien Hirst would later explore similar ideas with his colourful and orderly Spot Paintings.
The creation of the first Colour Chart painting in 1966 precipitated an intense period of experimentation that incorporated development of the respective series of Cityscapes, Mountainscapes, the Panes of Glass, the Mirrors, and the Grey paintings. Through these works Richter interrogated the limits of visual perception and the mechanics of painting. The paradigm of the photo-painting, as an object and technique, had been resolved and glorious examples had been achieved, executed in his strict palette of black and white with scintillating gradations of grey in between, providing mass, shape and form in the most exquisite of illusory fashions. Colour had been deliberately eschewed as he felt it interfered with the dynamic between image and index: the absence of colour was necessary to focus the eye on his bewilderingly formal apparitions. Moreover, during the 1960s, most photography was still made using black-and-white film, so Richter’s minimal palette remained faithful to his desire to make photographs out of paint.
1025 Farben evidences Richter’s desire to create a painting that sublimates any artistic drive to assert personality onto the canvas. Comprising fractionally raised, smooth, glossy surfaces, the lacquer blocks are discreet, independent units of colour. As the eye absorbs the multitude of hues spanning the spectrum, new illusory forms and colours are created. It is as if he created this painting to control and train his artistry and temperament. As such, 1025 Farben affords us ample reference to the mechanics of representation in absentia. The illusion of the Photo Paintings is continued here, but manifest in a different dialect. Rather than seeing the image from afar, now the image has been magnified and pixellated to its essential core: blocks of colour standing independently next to each other.
As Richter’s most pronounced concession to Minimalism, the Colour Charts occupy an enigmatic midpoint between the polarities of his monochrome Photo Paintings and the artist’s transition into full painterly abstraction in the late 1970s. As such, they are closely aligned to Richter’s Grey Paintings and Clouds, and serve as an important central function in the artist’s exploration of anti-painting and chance. Explaining his conscious act of annihilation of any artistic, gestural or stylistic choice, Richter declared: “I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no programme, no style, no directions. I have no time for specialised concerns, working themes, or variations that lead to mastery, I steer clear of direction. I don’t know what I want. I am inconsistent, non-committal, passive; I like the indefinite, the boundless; I like continual uncertainty” (Gerhard Richter, 'Notes 1964' in: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., op. cit., p. 73). As an artistic mission statement, Richter is categorical in his determination for indeterminacy. In 1025 Farben each colour is entirely liberated and simplified to its absolute essence. The colours buzz with energy and are no longer dependent on form but become form.
Richter’s corpus of Colour Charts extends the inspiration of myriad precedent, from the abstract work of the Bauhaus; the colour theories of Josef Albers; the structured order of Minimalism; to the ready-made inspiration of Pop, to create a series of works that deconstructed the very notion of painting itself. The present work simultaneously stands among the most minimalistic yet visually intense works of Richter’s unparalleled oeuvre, whilst representing the most transgressive and conceptually poignant turning point of the artist’s career. All aspects of the Richter’s philosophical, historical, and aesthetic concerns are captured in the glorious prismatic kaleidoscope of 1025 Farben’s abstract colour fields.