Der Kongress (Prof. Zander) is one of Richter's most impressive early figure paintings. Meticulously painted in subtle gradations of deliberately blurred grey tones, this powerful depiction of a room packed with human intellectual activity both explores and exploits the ambiguity that exists between the supposed truthful objectivity of a photograph and the inevitable artifice of the painted image.
In the foregound of the painting sit Professor Joseph Zander and his wife Charlotte. Professor Zander was a well-known gynecologist and this large and nearly square painting depicts him seated at the heart of a packed medical convention that was held in Marseille in 1964. The Zanders were keen collectors of avant-garde art in the early 1960s and one of Richter's first supporters during this important early stage in his artistic career. The image of the couple shortly before Professor Zander gave his speech at the conference has all the immediacy and objectivity of a newspaper photograph - a particularly favoured source of imagery for Richter at this time.
Photography, particularly amateur photography with its lack of aesthetic, of composition and often focus, offered Richter an uncertain and indifferent objectivity within which he could work as a painter. Photographs were for Richter "the only picture that tells the absolute truth, because (they) see 'objectively'. " They were ostensibly more real than any painted image because a photograph "usually gets believed, even when it is technically faulty and the content is barely identifiable" ("Notes 1964-65" cited in Ibid, p. 31).
In his search for an indifferent and objective image, Richter selected his source photographs with extreme care. The motifs were never chosen at random. "I had to make too much of an effort for that, just to be able to find photos that I could use" he has said. The photographs he selected were " very definitely concerned with content. Perhaps I denied that earlier, when I maintained that it had nothing to do with content, that for me it was only a matter of painting a photo and demonstrating indifference....I looked for photos that showed my actuality, that related to me. And I selected black and white photos because I noticed that they depicted that more forcefully than colour photos, more directly, with less artistry, and therefore more believable. That's also the reason why I preferred those amateur family photos, those banal objects and snapshots" (Interview with Benjamin Buchloch cited in Gerhard Richter : Paintings, London 1988, p. 20).
What interests Richter is not the subject matter of his paintings, but the area of ambiguity that exists between the objective photographic image of reality and the artificial representation of reality that belongs to the realm of the painting. "All that interests me is the grey areas," Richter maintained in 1965, "the passages and tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings. If I had any way of abandoning the object as the bearer of this structure, I would immediately start painting abstracts" (Op.cit., "The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 37).
In order to emphasise that the significance of his paintings exists on this deliberately ambiguous and uncertain level, Richter intentionally blurred his imagery so as to lay the artifice of both the painted image and the photographic process bare. This blurring is a device that Richter used in his early paintings to make it unavoidably clear to the viewer that his pictures, although real as objects, were also "fictions" of reality and that his interest lays in exploring and evoking the uncertain and unknown area that lies in between these two areas.
(fig. 1) Rembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp, 1632, The Hague, Mauritshuis.
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Richter IX.65' (on the reverse)
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, 12 Depuis 45, October-November 1977, no. 129 (illustrated).
59 x 551/8 in. (150 x 140 cm)
K. Honnef, "Schwierigkeiten beim Beschreiben der Realität, Richters Malerei zwischen Kunst und Gegenwart", Gerhard Richter, Gegenverkehr, Aachen, 1969, p. 59 (illustrated).
36th Venice Biennale, June-October 1972, p. 38, no. 81 (illustrated, p. 53).
A. H. Murken and C. Murken-Altrogge, "Künstler--die wichtigsten Leute der Welt", Deutsches Ärzteblatt--Ärzliche Mitteilungen, LXXIV, 1977, pp. 967-970, 1039-1042, 1101-1108 (p. 1039, illustrated, p. 970).
A. H. Murken, "Auf der Suche nach der Wirklichkeit," Der Kunst, no. 89, 1977, pp. 29-32 (illustrated, p. 31).
M. Hentschel and U. Loock, "Gerhard Richter," Artistes, Dec, 1983, pp. 36-42 (illustrated, p. 38).
J. Harten and D. Elgar, Gerhard Richter Bilder Paintings 1962-1985, Cologne, 1986, p. 362, no. 81 (illustrated, p. 38).
Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue raisonné 1962-1993, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, p. 151, no. 81 (illustrated in color).
Professor and Mrs. Joseph Zander, Munich, acquired from the artist.