Endless Images

Gerhard Richter at QAGOMA

Header Image - Gerhard Richter, "I.G.," 1993. Oil on canvas. 82 x 92 cm. "La Caixa" Collection, Contemporary Art. Barcelona, Spain. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0084).

BY: Zach Wampler

Gerhard Richter is arguably one of the most famous, elusive, and respected living artists. He has had numerous exhibitions at the most prestigious galleries and museums in the world, was the subject of a documentary, and has more than a few monographs devoted to him. It’s only natural one can start to feel fatigue, and ask, “can I really learn anything new here”? It turns out the lessons are endless when it comes to Germany’s most revered artist. If his recent museum exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia is any indication, Richter is simultaneously one of the most dynamic technicians and an emotionally and historically contemplative painters of our time.

Entitled The Life of Images, this exhibition shows the vast output of the artist along with his wide-reaching approach to painting. Included in the show are his monumental abstracts of elegant stripes or violent streaks, soft portraits and still life paintings, photographs, and bruising depictions of tumultuous post-war Germany. That long list still doesn’t fully cover the range of the artist’s oeuvre because rather than working diligently at evolving an art practice into a singular style, Richter has become synonymous with embracing all forms of western painting. The more impressive aspect is that he subsequently has become a master in every iteration. He is at a once a portraitist, a conceptual artist, a landscape painter, and a master of historical drama.

Marveling at the beautiful work and skill can satisfy any viewer (including me), but I have always wondered how much Richter’s German identity has played a role in this approach. For all of the beauty in the paintings, they feel deadly serious. I have never seen a Richter and had any desire to smile or laugh, and I think most individuals would agree with me. Having been born at the dawn of Nazi Germany, and then coming of age during the immediate aftermath of World War II, you can feel history and pain weighing on every perfect canvas. It also makes sense that Richter took up traditional methods as a means to an end; the German pioneers of Romanticism in the nineteenth-century were believers in technical mastery and emotional intensity. Those artists of Germany’s past perfectly capture the traumatic cultural moment that Richter lived through just over a century later.

Although this work was shown in far-off Australia, this visceral lesson in history and in art still resonates. Richter may have been reluctantly turned into a blue chip artist and living legend by the German state and auction houses around the world, but his work still has plenty to show us because of its timeless relevance and unflinching honesty.

 

Print by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “September” (Ed. 139), 2009. Print between glass. 66 x 89.8 cm. Collection: Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), Dallas, USA. Lay Family Acquisition Fund. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (23082017).

 

Print by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Strip,” 2012. Digital print on paper between Alu Dibond and Perspex (Diasec). 210 x 230 cm. Collection: Albertinum | Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0179).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Ella,” 2007. Oil on canvas. 40 x 31 cm. Private Collection. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0084).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Orchid,” 1997. Oil on aludibond. 29 x 37 cm. Private Collection. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0084).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Self-portrait,” 1996. Oil on linen. 51 x 46 cm. Collection: Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder and Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0077).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Seascape,” 1975. Oil on canvas. 200 x 300 cm. Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart, Germany. © Gerhard Richter 2016 (1203/2016).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Reader,” 1994. Oil on canvas. 72 x 102 cm. Collection: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA. Purchase through the gifts of Mimi and Peter Haas and Helen and Charles Schwab, and the Accessions Committee Fund: Barbara and Gerson Bakar, Collectors Forum, Evelyn D. Haas, Elaine McKeon, Byron R. Meyer, Modern Art Council, Christine and Michael Murray, Nancy and Steven Oliver, Leanne B. Roberts, Madeleine H. Russell, Danielle and Brooks Walker, Jr., Phyllis C. Wattis, and Pat and Bill Wilson. © Gerhard Richter 2016 (1203/2016).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Abstract Painting,” 1990. Oil on canvas. 2 canvases: 250 x 350 cm (overall); 250 x 175 cm each. Collection: Tate. Purchased 1992. © Gerhard Richter 2016 (1.203/2016).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Phantom Interceptors,” 1964. Oil on canvas. 140 x 190 cm. Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart, Germany. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0077).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “St. Andrew,” 1988. Oil on canvas. 200 x 260 cm. Collection: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA, Modern and Contemporary Art Council Fund. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0077).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Meadowland,” 1985. Oil on canvas. 90.5 x 94.9 cm. Collection: Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Blanchette Rockefeller, Betsy Babcock, and Mrs Elisabeth Bliss Parkinson Funds, 1985. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0077).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Skull,” 1983. Oil on canvas. 55 x 50 cm. Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden, Germany. Permanent loan from a private collection. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0084).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Two candles,” 1982. Oil on canvas. 80 x 100 cm. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0077).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Canary Landscape,” 1970. Oil on canvas. 120 x 150 cm. Collection: IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat, Spain. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0077).

 

Print by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Hood” (Ed. 88), 1996. Offset lithograph, white Japanese paper. 46.9 x 46.9 cm. Collection: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art League Fund, Roberta Coke Camp Fund, General Acquisitions Fund, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, and the Contemporary Art Fund: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon E. Faulconer, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant M. Hanley, Jr., Marguerite and Robert K. Hoffman, Howard E. Rachofsky, Deedie and Rusty Rose, Gayle and Paul Stoffel, and two anonymous donors. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0069).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “Birkenau,” 2014. Oil on canvas. 260 x 200 cm. Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden, Germany. Permanent loan from a private collection. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0084).

 

Painting by Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter, “I.G.,” 1993. Oil on canvas. 82 x 92 cm. “La Caixa” Collection, Contemporary Art. Barcelona, Spain. © Gerhard Richter 2017 (0084).