Friday, February 27, 2009

Gerhard Richter - Abstract Paintings Exhibition Opens Today at Haus der Kunst in Munich

Gerhard Richter - Abstract Paintings Exhibition Opens Today at Haus der Kunst in Munich

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Gerhard Richter, Claudius, 1986, Öl auf Leinwand, 311 x 406 cm, Sammlung Landesbank Baden-Württemberg. © Gerhard Richter.

MUNICH.- Haus der Kunst presents today Gerhard Richter - Abstract Paintings, on view through May 17, 2009. Gerhard Richter has been painting his abstract paintings since the 1970s. Today they comprise two-thirds of all his work. With its concentration on this painting type, this exhibition differs from past Richter retrospectives, which primarily focused – each updated – on the proportional shift from the artist’s photograph-based paintings to his abstract ones.

The series "Cage" from 2006 and "Wald" (Forest) from 2005 – the latter on view for the first time in Europe – serve as the show’s point of departure. The exhibition traces Richter’s artistic development – represented in these series – to its roots, which stretch back to the mid-1980s: from the four-part series "Bach" (1992) and the color-reduced "St. Gallen," (1989) to earlier, more vibrant paintings such as "Blau" (Blue) (1988) and "Claudius" (1986).

Gerhard Richter uses the expanse and height of the exhibition rooms in the Haus der Kunst to flexibly interpret the serial character of the more than 60 large format paintings: to depict the sum of the individual works through their concentration in one room ("Bach"), or to emphasize the individual works by hanging them in different, successive rooms ("Cage").

Abstraction with Richter: Work on the basic questions of painting - In the mid-1980s Gerhard Richter produced an unusual number of large format paintings, frequently in series of three or four works. These paintings – with all their formal analogies – are characterized by a graphic multi-formality and form an open work group.

A main concern of the artist was to overcome the randomness of visual experience and to heighten the individual effect of color and form. Gerhard Richter applies the elements and structures of paint with brushes, squeegees and palette knives, so that the already existing layers are overlapped or completely obliterated by new ones. The traces of these tools and the layers of paint combine to create structures of spatial or landscape impressions without their consolidating into a recognizable object. Arbitrariness, chance, coincidence and destruction allow a specific type of painting to emerge but never a predetermined image. For Richter this multi-layered manner of painting is not based on a found motif or existing image; the artist, rather, works his way free of all motif specifications. "Every consideration that I use to ’construct’ a painting is incorrect and when the execution succeeds then this is only because I destroy this in part, or because it works despite this fact, by not disturbing and appearing planned." (Gerhard Richter)

Since the late 1980s Gerhard Richter has created paintings by dragging a squeegee in vertical or horizontal paths over the entire width or height of the canvas; in this way paint can be both applied as well as removed. Undercoats thus emerge smooth and diffused and are simultaneously superimposed again in a complex manner. Over the course of his artistic development, Gerhard Richter has developed various painting strategies. His abstract works are witness to his unrelenting preoccupation and formal examination of the condition of his own medium.

The beginnings of abstraction were characterized by an attempt at renewal. Abstraction was considered to be the most appropriate means of artistic self-expression and the aspired-to ’pure’ representation of representational techniques developed into subjectivism and high pathos for artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Postwar artists, however, had experienced the collapse of a civilization; they made use of abstraction’s vocabulary in order to paint themselves free of their despair in their age’s circumstances. This partly violent gesture led Gerhard Richter to realize early on that the works of his predecessors, such as Jackson Pollock, as well as Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein, would, in the long run, fall pray to the "stockpile of the spectacle." (Buchloh) Richter, therefore, had to ask himself how a contemporary painted abstraction, which was born out of disillusionment and hopelessness, could now look like. Out of the tension between the utopia of a new beginnings and the mourning over the losses of these, he came to his own conception of painting and was ultimately able to find his own expression of abstraction.

As with his predecessors, the question of his abstract paintings’ relation to the world is also an issue with Richter: Is a sense of unease or the deficit of a particular social situation apparent in Richter’s abstract works? Do they express a general sense of the times beyond their subjective mood? It is typical of the reception of Richter’s abstract paintings that no answers have been formulated that point in a singular direction; rather the critique of the dialectical interplay of coincidence and structure, and of materiality and mentality typical of Richter are positively emphasized. The abstract language he has developed maintains moderation between accessibility and reserve. "The painting of Gerhard Richter is a discreet painting. It is a painting that knows how to distinguish between too much and too little with regard to the expression, reflexivity and self-accusation of painterly means." (Beate Söntgen)

The exhibition is developed in cooperation with the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and is curated by Ulrich Wilmes, who joined the Haus der Kunst in Munich in spring 2008. A catalogue with contributions by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Beate Söntgen, Gregor Stemmrich and Ulrich Wilmes has been published by Hatje Cantz, ISBN 978-3-7757- 2248-3, museum price 49,80 Euros. Supported by the Gesellschaft der Freunde Haus der Kunst.

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