Gerhard Richter | Photographs is dedicated to the artist’s photographic work, bringing together unique photographs and rare photographic editions. Encompassing early self-portraits, portrait series, landscapes, experimental abstractions, and reproductions of Richter’s own paintings from 1965 to 2021, the exhibition explores how the artist has continued to navigate the pictorial potential of a photograph over the decades of his work. Richter’s artistic practice is intricately entwined with the medium of photography—“it is indeed inconceivable without it,” as pointed out by Dieter Schwarz. Having employed photographs as a conceptual tool in the early stages of his career, creating blurred paintings based on photographic images, Richter also took out-of-focus photographs based on existing photographic images, mimicking his own painterly effect whilst sidestepping the act of painting itself. With Portrait Heiner Friedrich and the remarkably large-scale Mao, the exhibition features two unique photographic portraits from 1970 that are both out-of-focus reproductions of existing portraits by other photographers.
With the same interest in layering levels of representation, Richter also photographed his own paintings early on, viewing these reproductions as entirely new creations. Dieter Schwarz notes, “The status of the copy, it could be said, seemed to him even more important than the supposedly original picture.” The exhibition includes editioned photographs of some of Richter’s most iconic paintings, such as Onkel Rudi, Ema and Mustang-Staffel, alongside a unique photograph of his 1992 painting Blumen (Flowers). By photographing these paintings instead of their source images, Richter incorporates the alterations made with paint, further distancing the resulting photographic images from the reality that was originally captured.
Throughout his practice, Richter also used the camera as a tool for visual experimentation. Examples can be found in his exploratory self-portraits from 1968 as well as in a series of performative actions executed by Volker Bradke and photographed by Richter in 1966. The inventive group of double-exposed portraits Richter took of artist duo Gilbert & George in 1975, some of which Richter later executed as oil paintings, also emanates a sense of playful immediacy.
The same can be said for Richter’s photographic abstractions Ophelia and Guildenstern (both 1998), where richly coloured lacquer is captured flowing freely, creating patterned structures of marble effects beyond the artist’s control. Other abstract photographs, such as Uran and Abstraktes Foto (both 1989), revolve around the artist’s own abstract canvases. Richter analyses them with photographic means, reproducing, fragmenting and repeating, in order to, it seems, get closer to the paintings’ essence.
While Richter’s body of work includes relatively few pure photographs—as Schwarz points out, “The photographs presented in this exhibition are the exception rather than the rule”—, his photographic strategies are just as inventive and diverse as his work in general. Simultaneously, his creations in other media often draw heavily from the influence of photography. In essence, photographs serve as the origin and core of many of Richter’s works.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with an essay by Dieter Schwarz, who will also speak at the opening.