Contemporary Art Day Auction


Gerhard Richter
B. 1932
UNTITLED (9.4.86)
signed, titled and dated 9.4.86
oil and graphite on paper
49 1/4 by 38 3/8 in. 125.1 by 97.5 cm.
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Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Private Collection
Christie's, New York, 8 March 2013, Lot 77
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


Amsterdam, Museum Overholland, Gerhard Richter: Werken op papier 1983-1986, February - April 1987, p. 123, illustrated in color


Composing an exuberant thesis on the phenomenological capacities of the painted medium, Gerhard Richter’s Untitled (9.4.86) stands out as one of the most resolute and enthralling works on paper within his iconic corpus of abstract paintings. Starting on the second day of April in 1986, over the course of eight consecutive days, Richter completed a set of paintings on paper that remain amongst his largest works on the support to date, each uniquely titled by the day of its composition. Taking a central place within this important series, the present work’s perfected synthesis of primary color balancing and dynamic gesture evidences the creative zenith and stylistic breakthrough that Richter achieved in this highly significant year. Retaining evidence of hand applied brush work across the surface, Untitled (9.4.86) shows the final point of transition prior to Richter’s full submission to the rubber squeegee as the tool that would dominate his abstract paintings over the following decades. As an aesthetic conceit that recalls the expressionistic vigor of his earliest painterly abstractions whilst looking towards the detached stability of the Abstrakte Bilder of the late 1980s, in Untitled (9.4.86) Richter crafts his most profoundly duplicitous space within the genre; germane to both objective methodology and subjective expression. Within his wider body of work Richter’s abstract works on paper are markedly rare. Above all other mediums, however, they express his most radical instances of experimentation, stemming from his most investigative urges at times of heightened creativity. Uniquely celebrating the sense of freedom offered by the medium in the areas of raw paper, this unique painting on paper gives unparalleled insight into the working process and aesthetic volition of the artist at the most crucial point of his abstract trajectory.

Richter’s iconic abstract works have formed a conceptual keystone of his oeuvre since the late 1960s. Polarized with the disquietingly naturalistic illusionism of the photo-realist paintings that he developed in tandem, it is in the abstract works that Richter enacts his most profound examination of the painted medium; both its corporeal state as raw pigment appended to the page and its cerebral capacity to conjure the artifice of illusion. During the 1980s, Richter became increasingly prolific in his abstract practice, initially indulging in a myriad of free floating and delineated abstract shapes for the first half of decade. The year of 1986 signified a turning point as the artist embarked upon an intense period of experimentation after which he relinquished planned compositional elements in favor of the indeterminate scrape of the rubber squeegee. Arguably, there is no other place that this impassioned moment investigation is made more visible than in the eight outstanding works on paper created during the month of April and of which the present work is a definitive paragon. Harmoniously blending brush and squeegee with a sense of unparalleled dynamic veracity, Untitled (9.4.86) reveals the full breadth of the artist’s idiosyncratic painterly alchemy.

Here we see Richter playfully dissect the pictorial mechanics that historically underpinned the academic practice of image making as schematized in Renaissance painting. The artist’s uniquely nuanced layering of color poses a nod to technique of aerial perspective, in which increasingly blue tones are used to allude to distance within the frame. Untitled (9.4.86) is underpinned by a deep recessive blue that is subsequently caressed by successive layers of acidic greens, luminous yellows and visceral reds. Cross-hatched and compounded through the interplay of squeegee and brush work, the vibrant swathes of luminous primaries are enlivened by their stark tonal contrasts and appear to leap from the sheet, exacerbating the illusion of structural depth. Through an impassioned yet subtly interlaced example of the gestural mark making that he would soon abandon, Richter demarcates picture frame with an oblique cross formation that also references the technical grid methodology used in the creation of linear perspective. Yet in its crudely hastened application and by drawing directly into the wet paint with a blunt brush edge, Richter simultaneously undermines the illusionism of constructed perspective and reifies the physical constitution of the medium. Constructing a hypnotic symphony that confuses our capacity to register stable depth, Richter also intermittently shatters his own illusion as the static tides dissipate and we are reminded of the material support of this cerebral vision through the rare exposure of the page. 

As a highly refined progression from the gestural bravado of Franz Kline and the expressive action painting of Jackson Pollock, here Richter introduces a crucial element of objective distance and submission to the law of chance in which the work retains a captivating sense of autonomy. Reflecting on Richter’s abstract practice, Benjamin Buchloh writes: “If the ability of color to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships, there can’t be any harmonious chromatic order, or compositional either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the color system or the spatial system” (Benjamin Buchloh, "An Interview with Gerhard Richter" in Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, pp. 23-24). It is in this redefinition of compositional order that Richter evokes a mesmerizing polyphony of color, texture, and perspective. In Untitled (9.4.86) the phenomenological capacity of painting is presented as a dichotomy between the squeegee and the brush; a trajectory that would come to monumental fruition in his paintings on canvas of the following years.

Contemporary Art Day Auction