Lot 1079
  • 1079

GERHARD RICHTER | Abstraktes Bild 802-3

18,000,000 - 28,000,000 HKD
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild 802-3
  • oil on canvas
  • 112 by 102 cm; 44 by 40⅛ in.
signed, titled and dated 1994 on the reverse


Wako Works of Art, Tokyo
Acquired from the above by the present owner


France, Nîmes, Carré d'Art, Museé d'Art Contemporain de Nîmes, Gerhard Richter 100 Paintings, 15 June - 15 September 1996, p. 62, illustrated in colour
Japan, Tokyo, Wako Works of Art, Gerhard Richter, 24 October - 28 November 1997, p. 21, illustrated in colour


Gerhard Richter 1998, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, 1998, p. 87, illustrated in colour
The Subaru Monthly, Feb. 1998, p. 202, illustrated in colour
Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné 1993–2004, Richter Verlag, Düsseldorf; D.A.P,  New York, 2005, p. 269, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné 1988-1994, Vol. 4 (nos. 652-1 – 805-6), Ostfildern, Germany, 2015, cat. no. 302-3, p. 582, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

It's a chance that is always planned, but also always surprising. And I need it in order to carry on. 

Gerhard Richter

Executed in 1994, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild 802-3 manifests the unparalleled masterful achievement of Richter’s intellectual inquiry into abstraction—an investigation that reached its mature zenith surrounding the period of this work’s creation. Presenting a spectacular stratum of rich red, overlain with powerful lateral swathes of deep black and a sublime ivory veil of luscious white cascading vertically down the right side of the canvas, Abstraktes Bild 802-3 delivers a breathtakingly symphonic composition that is dazzling in its execution and riveting in its chromatic and textural complexity. Completing the superior orchestration of colour are sublime accents of gold, green and just a hint of cerulean blue excavated from beneath the veil of his squeegee. At once strikingly authoritative and gracefully elegant, the masterpiece delivers a truly superlative balance between illusion and allusion, erasure and construction, veiling and revealing – a highly representative specimen of Richter’s era-defining inquiry into abstract painting.

The present work sits at the chronological apex of the period when the artist’s creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights. In the mid-1980s, Richter began using his homemade squeegee to scrape large bands of antecedently applied paint off his canvases; and in the 1990s, he first used this tool to create the distinctive vertical columns structurally essential to the present work. Faintly resembling wooden planks, the columns became an important motif in Richter’s abstractions and move his oeuvre further beyond the conventional dichotomy of figuration and abstraction. Where Richter has unwaveringly voiced his criticism of Modernist abstraction’s transcendent idealism, his works embody an explicit confrontation and recapitulation of precisely that modality through contradictions. In the words of Roald Nasgaard: “The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual elements, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization […]” (exh. cat. Gerhard Richter: Paintings: 1988, p. 110).

By negotiating fields of stunning colour against the pristine reductive purity of white, Richter achieves a deeply worked composition that interrogates the limits of colour altogether. When working on his abstract paintings, Richter allows for some time to pass between the application of each layer of paint. The paintings undergo endless variations in which, with each new gesture the artist adds or scrapes off colour, juxtaposing textures until a harmonious equilibrium is reached. While the strokes of the squeegee have a spontaneous nature, the overlaid works are however thoroughly thought through. Richter refers to his modus operandi as “never blind chance: it’s a chance that is always planned, but also always surprising. And I need it in order to carry on, in order to eradicate my mistakes, to destroy what I’ve worked out wrong, to introduce something different and disruptive” (the artist in conversation with Benjamin H. D. Buchloch in 1986, Gerhard Richter: Text, Cologne 2009, p. 182). Like a composer working on a symphony, Richter contemplates, pauses, and “listens” until his lyrical compositions are finished. Abstraktes Bild is, indeed, full of rhythm; the vigorous colours and expressive, gestural marks could well make it the painterly expression of an allegro. It is by music that Richter is many times inspired – if not by listening to it when painting, at least when thinking of himself as making “constant efforts to create a structure in mutual terms and a varied instrumentation” (Ibid, p. 163).

Within its consummate layers and dynamic compositional facture, this painting emits a wealth of enigmatic evocation. Streaked and smeared tides of once-semi-liquid material have been fixed on the surface; the shadows of their former malleability caught in a perpetually dynamic stasis. Staccato ridges, crests and peaks of impasto punctuate this underlying fluidity, creating a powerful sensation of depth and perspectival space through the lens of Richter’s trademark abstract vernacular. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution readily evokes natural phenomena, deriving at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Evocative of color theories that Neo-Impressionists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac utilized to create vibrating painted surfaces, the continually varied tonality and intensely numerous variations of contrasting hues within each inch of the canvas create an intensely unstable perceptive field. This coloristic harmony and lyrical resonance broadcast an evocative atmosphere of density and chaos, while the interplay of hues and the complex textures invite the viewer to look both at and through the laminas of material. We become immersed in color and movement as if confronting a natural phenomenon of the sea or sky.

Forming a conceptual keystone of his oeuvre, Richter’s iconic Abstrakte Bilder have performed a prolifically sustained philosophical enquiry into the medium of painting and the foundations of our contemporary visual understanding. In the present work, the swathes and accretions result in an extreme textural topography which constantly transforms with our shifting perspective amidst an ever-changing play of light. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the plethora 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 how Fontana’s slashes deconstruct the picture plane into the infinity of space and the unknown. In Richter’s own words, he looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119). And as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richter’s abstract works articulate that which cannot be articulated: “Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable” (Birgit Pelzer, "The Tragic Desire" in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 118).