Demonstrating the designer’s undeniable passion for contemporary artworks of the highest order, Marc Jacobs' collection is typified by examples as diverse as Richter’s Säbelantilope (1966), Jeff Koons’ Yorkshire Terriers (1991) and Takashi Murakami’s The Double Helix (2002), and brings together a plethora of seminal works by adventurous, global art stars. As well as displaying an exuberant variety, each work attests to an individual depth and respective importance that defines Jacobs’ exceptionally curated collection. From Koons’s Yorkshire Terriers – central to his significant Made in Heaven series – to Hockney’s The Salesman (1963) – a sublime example of the artist’s early paintings – these works exhibit an expert appreciation of the vanguard art movements of the last half-century. Assembled with the creativity and connoisseurship of one of the most celebrated arbiters of contemporary taste, this selection of works charts a panorama of hugely influential artists, curated by one of the most pioneering aesthetes of recent times.
An ominous shadow diagonally cuts across a background of gradated shades of grey in Gerhard Richter’s Schattenbild, dissecting the pictorial space into a mesmerising series of abstract forms. Executed in 1968, the present work hails from the Shadow Paintings, a series of monochromes painted in a photorealistic style but based, in fact, on sketches the artist had made. As an early foray into abstract painting, the present work constitutes an important development in Richter’s oeuvre and represents a significant precursor to his critically acclaimed Grey Paintings and Abstratke Bilder.
Fascinated by the way in which photography has permeated everyday life, the artist began to reproduce images from photographs onto canvas in 1962, covering themes from cityscapes to intimate family portraits. During his exhibition of the Schattenbilder at the 1972 Venice Biennale, Richter said of these photographic sources: “there was no style, no composition, no judgement. It liberated me from personal experience. There was nothing but a pure picture. Therefore, I wanted to possess it and show it – not to use it as a means for painting but to use painting as a means for the photograph” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Rolf Schön in Exh. Cat., Venice, Venice Biennale, Gerhard Richter – 36 Biennale di Venezia, 1972, p. 23). Schattenbild encapsulates Richter’s desire to create photographs through painting, for despite not being based on a photograph, the painting’s realistic style imbues it with the photograph’s aura of authenticity and objectivity.
Richter’s experimentation with “objective” expression in Schattenbild coincided with the growing recognition of Minimalist artists such as Frank Stella and Donald Judd. Reacting against the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalist artists avoided overt symbolism and emotional content in their work, instead attempting to emphasise the materiality and artistic anonymity of their paintings and sculpture. Just as Stella adopted the pattern of delineated parallel lines in his composition to rid his paintings of pictorial illusion, Richter appropriated the camera’s objectivity as a way of eliminating artistic agency. He painted curtains, tubes and windows, all of which look photographic, but are in fact, like the Shadow Paintings, abstract monochrome compositions.
Among his earliest experimentations with abstraction, the Shadow Paintings serve as an important milestone in the artist’s quest for expression-free abstraction and marks a significant stage in the development of Richter’s oeuvre. In its juxtaposition of abstract forms against a monochrome background, Schattenbild anticipates Richter’s Grey Paintings of the 1970s which, in their dark patterns and colour, bear resemblance to underexposed photographs. Following from this, the artist adopted the squeegee in the 1980s to create his critically acclaimed Abstrakte Bilder. By eschewing composition in these paintings and allowing the broad sweep of the squeegee to guide the mixing of colours, the artist surrenders himself to chance, letting nature run its course in his creative process. Clearly traceable in the development of Richter’s oeuvre is his desire to internalise the photographic in making paintings that possess the medium's objective non-expressive quality. His varied and sequential bodies of work, from Schattenbild to the Abstrakte Bilder, constitute different strategies in approaching the very same inquiry.
Despite having created extremely varied series in a large range of mediums, Richter has remained resolute in his search for a non-expressionistic form of abstract painting. Through this decades-long process of experimentation, the artist has led an internationally acclaimed career that has reinvigorated the practice of painting and redefined its premises. Embodying Minimalism’s radical ideal and aesthetic, Schattenbild testifies to Richter’s status as one of the most pioneering and groundbreaking abstract artists of his generation.
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