Contemporary Art Day Auction


Gerhard Richter
signed, dated 1981 and numbered 472-3 on the reverse
oil on canvas
50 by 70 cm. 19 3/4 by 27 1/2 in.
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Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach
Collection Achim Kubinski, Stuttgart
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Chicago
Sotheby's, London, 16 February 2012, Lot 171
Private Collection, Europe
Schönewald Fine Arts, Dusseldorf
Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Bielefeld, Kunsthalle Bielefeld; and Mannheim, Mannheimer Kunstverein, Gerhard Richter: Abstrakte Bilder 1976 bis 1981, January - May 1982, p. 64 (text)
Zurich, Galerie Konrad Fischer, Gerhard Richter, October - November 1982
London, Christie's Mayfair, polke/richter: richter/polke, April - July 2014, p. 82, and p. 169, illustrated in colour


Exh. Cat., Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (and travelling), Gerhard Richter, Bilder: Paintings 1962-1985, January - September 1986, p. 245, illustrated; and p. 393 (text)
Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, no. 472-3, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Rasionné 1976-1987, Vol. 3, Ostfildern 2013, p. 229, no. 472-3, illustrated in colour


Abstraktes Bild, created in 1981, on the cusp of Gerhard Richter's transition from figurative Photo Paintings into his revolutionary body of vibrant abstract works, is a visually and conceptually important work in the precept of abstract painting. Richter initially struggled to move away from the supportive framework of photography, using magnified images and photographic sketches as the foundation for his abstract explorations. It was not until the early 1980s that he managed to free himself from pre-meditated structure, allowing the natural evolution of paint across the canvas to dictate the appearance of his works. Richter has described the way in which his early abstract paintings “allowed me to do what I had never let myself do: put something down at random. And then, of course, I realised that it never can be random. It was all a way of opening a door for me. If I don't know what's coming – that is, if I have no hard-and-fast image, as I have with a photographic original – then arbitrary choice and chance play an important part” (Gerhard Richter, Gerhard Richter: Text, London 2009, p. 256).

Typical of Richter’s extraordinary early body of Abstrakte Bilder, the present work is executed on an intimate scale. The work also embodies the artist’s interrogations of order and chaos, its composition delicately poised between the two. The pine green, and white peak-like marks across the luminous red ground loosely evoke references to a landscape. Furthermore, this conceit recalls the use of glyphs and primitive shapes used by Abstract Expressionists from Franz Kline to Robert Motherwell. Enlisting non-art instruments for artistic ends is only one of several means by which Richter interrogates the medium and the role of intentionality in art making. In Abstraktes Bild the characteristic blurring and dragging movements of later abstracts works by the artist are evident in the dappled haze of rich yellow along the bottom of the canvas. This element was conveyed using Richter’s trademark tool, the squeegee; a rectangular sheet of Perspex fixed to a wooden handle. In this signature technique Richter applies and re-applies layers of paint with a brush, then dragging them across the canvas with the device to produce shimmering planes of colour.

While Richter’s abstracts paintings from the late 1970s and onwards are independent from any particular photographic model, they nonetheless exhibit a quasi-mechanised reproducibility. The consistent use of red and green, as seen in the present work, call to mind the RGB colour model that is used for the representation and display of images in such electronic systems as televisions and computers, as well as photography. Richter elaborated on this connection and his method of abstraction in 1979 "every time we describe an event, add up a column of figures or take a photograph of a tree, we create a model; without models we would know nothing about reality and would be like animals. Abstract paintings are fictitious models because they visualise a reality, which we can neither see nor describe, but which may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality; the un-known, the un-graspable, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted it in terms of substitute images live heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can be neither seen nor understood” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Painting, 1988, p. 107).

Richter’s utterly extraordinary and pioneering art of abstraction stands as the ultimate culmination of the heroic journey of his career, during which he has endlessly questioned the limits of representation, the nature of perception, and the operations of visual understanding. Abstraktes Bild is a compelling, mysterious and timeless image which, in decades to come, will be still be yielding new readings. As art historian and curator Rudi Fuchs concluded on Richter’s early abstract works, “It has become very difficult to take things which are imaginative and beautiful and utterly unusual for granted. To me it is this issue which is being forced by Richter’s paintings. I like those paintings, but I do not quite know why. I look at them and I see freedom of mind, sovereign will, unusual imagination, superior skill, precision” (Rudi Fuchs cited in: Exh. Cat., Bielefeld, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Gerhard Richter: Abstrakte Bilder 1976 bis 1981, 1982, p. 8).

Contemporary Art Day Auction