Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild (710) is larger than life, larger than the viewer, and is packed with opulent, almost iridescent detail. It visually overloads: the layers of color, with blue smeared deliberately over a palimpsestic range of marbled hues, defy the viewer to comprehend them, causing their focus to move across the whole canvas, seeking some visual hook to grasp. Instead, the painting's deliberate uniform density defies our attempts, causing us to continue looking, absorbed, at this kaleidoscopic mass of oils.
Precisely to keep his viewer looking at the surface of his Abstract Paintings, Richter developed the incredibly rich visual idiom so central to Abstraktes Bild (710). Richter's Abstracts are highly calculated paintings. They are clearly produced by chance, hazard, Richter moving paint across the surface with brushes and squeegees alike. Richter deliberately seeks to block any overly literal interpretation of forms within the work:
"We only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us. I see something and in my head I compare it and try to find out what it relates to. And usually we do find those similarities and name them: table, blanket, and so on. When we don't find anything, we are frustrated and that keeps us excited and interested until we have to turn away because we are bored. That's how abstract painting works" (G. Richter, quoted in R. Storr, "Interview with Gerhard Richter," exh. cat., Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, ed. Robert Storr, New York, 2002, p. 304).
Thus, the surface of Abstraktes Bild (710) becomes an incredibly active zone of potential, as the viewer seeks and seeks some recognisable shard, some latch, within this wealth of oils. Richter has deliberately thrown a wedge in interpretation's door, keeping our faculty for reading images open, where a figurative work would have been seen, recognised and then dismissed. In this way Richter forces the viewer to consider how pictures are seen and read, and also how they are made. Looking at the surface of Abstraktes Bild (710) is like an archaeological dig, the traces of so many different abstract elements peeking through the gaps between various layers of color, manifesting Richter's range of technique, movement and action.
Gradually, during the second half of the 1980s, Richter honed a style that resulted in works such as Abstraktes Bild (710), in which he unites predominantly vertical composition is with a conspicuously vertical sense of the paint's "movement." The finished result in these paintings is incredibly rich, similar to the strange optical effects of shot silk that so fascinated the Old Masters. While Richter has deliberately avoided any figurative hints creeping into this painting, nonetheless a waterfall-like, shimmering quality serves only to make the painting more absorbing, further engaging us. This verticality also disrupts any sense of horizon, banishing the landscape-like quality of some of his earlier Abstract Pictures and removing another potential interpretative pitfall.
To keep away from signifiers or readable content, Richter developed a system of painting his Abstract Pictures by which concurrently he works on several. Moving from one work to the other, giving himself time to leave each one sometimes for days at a time, he is able to look with fresh eyes and a clear and objective perspective on returning to a certain painting. He can thus excise any element that is too figurative or too much of an emotional cue. At the same time, the distance that he so deliberately maintains between himself and the canvas, which he emphasises by using hard squeegees as well as brushes, assaults the directness of application of so many Abstract Expressionists works . For Richter, the Action Painters who were so active in the United States in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s -- as well as the Neo-Expressionists of the 1980s -- were too involved in their pictures, too subjective, participating in outmoded and devalued forms of art, and therefore occupied conceptual territory that had been compromised and undermined by the critical theories and advances of the previous decades. Against the backdrop of their works he created his Abstract Pictures, or rather allowed them to create themselves while retaining his, and their, objectivity.
That said, Richter freely admits he enjoys painting the Abstracts. They are not cool and inscrutable intellectual works, but are produced by fun, by movement, by Richter's passion for color and long-ingrained love of painting itself. Pictures such as Abstraktes Bild (710) therefore show Richter's paradoxical relationship with painting. He is all too aware of the potential obsolescence of painting in our critical age and has repeatedly illustrated it, yet continues to be held in painting's thrall. And in Abstraktes Bild (710) and its sister works, he revels in the freedom afforded to him by the lack of motif, by the canvas's infinite potential to hold the colors he wishes, in stark contrast to the rigorous process, the containment, that is necessitated by his Photo Pictures. "I always need to paint abstracts again," Richter confesses. "I need that pleasure" (G. Richter, quoted in M. Kimmelman, "Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms," The New York Times, 27 January 2002).
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed, numbered and dated '710 Richter 1989' (on the reverse)
Gerhard Richter , 20th Century, Paintings, Germany, Contemporary
Musée d'Art Contemporain de la ville de Nîmes, Carré d'art, Gerhard Richter, 100 Bilder, June-September 1996, p. 27 (illustrated in color).
Essen, Galerie 20.21, Joseph Marioni/Gerhard Richter: The Flatness of Painting, February-April 2001.
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Moving Energies #03, Aspekte der Sammlung Olbricht, January-April 2004, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Düsseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung-Nordhein-Westfalen and Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Gerhard Richter, February-August 2005, p. 206 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
102½ x 78¾ in. (260 x 200 cm.)
B. Buchloch, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, p. 188, no. 710 (illustrated in color).
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner