Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter's Atlas is a collection of photographs, newspaper cuttings and sketches that the artist has been assembling since the mid 1960s. A few years later, Richter started to arrange the materials on loose sheets of paper.

In the beginning I tried to accommodate everything there that was somewhere between art and garbage and that somehow seemed important to me and a pity to throw away.

Interview with Dieter Schwarz, 1999 [1]

At present, Atlas consists of 802 sheets. Spanning a period of almost four decades, the individual sheets reflect different phases of Richter's life and work.

When I first painted a number of canvases grey all over (about eight years ago), I did so because I did not know what to paint, or what there might be to paint: so wretched a start could lead to nothing meaningful. As time went on, however, I observed differences of quality among the grey surfaces – and also that these betrayed nothing of the destructive motivation that lay behind them. The pictures began to teach me. By generalizing a personal dilemma, they resolved it. [...]

From a letter to Edy de Wilde, 23 February 1975 [2]

Discover the surface of the painting Weinernte

Copyright © Gerhard Richter 2021 (0013); Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf; Photo Simon Vogel, Cologne
Copyright © Gerhard Richter 2021 (0013); Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf; Photo Simon Vogel, Cologne
Copyright @ Gerhard Richter 2021 (0013); Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf; Photo Simon Vogel, Cologne
Copyright © Gerhard Richter 2021 (0013); Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf; Photo Simon Vogel, Cologne
Copyright © Gerhard Richter 2021 (0013); Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf; Photo Simon Vogel, Cologne

Landscape between Nature and Abstraction

In 1968, Gerhard Richter introduced the two new themes of city and mountain subjects into his extensive oeuvre. They were to dominate his production of paintings in that year. He temporarily abandoned the earlier, softly rendered grey photo paintings based on images from newspapers, magazines and photo albums. Only in a small group of commissioned portraits did Richter continue to work with them, mostly to meet the expectations of his clients.

The city and mountain landscapes offer panoramic views from an elevated perspective; Richter took these images from architectural books or photographed them himself. His paintings are intensified by the high-contrast light and shadow passages through the application of paint in strong, impasto brush strokes of black and white. As a result of this stylistic approach, when the viewer approaches the canvas, the figurative subject dissolves into an abstract structure.
Weinernte from 1968 [3] marks the beginning of a small group of works, consisting of only six paintings which differ stylistically from all other pictures created that year. In his catalogue raisonné, Gerhard Richter assigned these paintings the work-numbers 195 to 196-4 and 198. Their uniform size of 95 x 115 cm (37 3/8 x 45 1/4 in.) already identifies them as a group belonging together. Of this group, only the later Weihnachtsmarkt [4] is a bit smaller and varies in size at 67 x 87 cm (26 3/8 x 34 1/4 in.).

When asked about the painting Weinernte, Gerhard Richter points out that he also painted this picture from a photographic template. In fact, the motif can be found on plate 7 in the artist's Atlas [5]– an illustrated weekly calendar from October 1963. Its function as a template for one of the artist's paintings has so far gone unnoticed. The two calendar pages opposite panel 7 show templates for two works from the same group: Frau in Hollywoodschaukel [6] and Am Bahnsteig [7].

In view of the city and mountain landscapes with their loose and impasto application of paint that were created in the same year, Weinernte confronts Richter with the challenge of how to transfer this coarse brushstroke to the image templates from news-media or private origin, which were characteristic of his grey photo paintings between 1962 and 1966. The photographic representation of the grape harvest is already difficult to discern on the calendar page. Richter's black and white painting with its loose brush strokes further dissolves the motif. He reduces it to a few distinctive vertical lines, which are reminiscent of the vines in the original, and to a dark area at the position where a wine cradle is depicted in the photograph. Otherwise, Richter's painting suggests more than can be recognized in the original. The title Weinernte remains the only clear reference to the photographic representation, but without direct comparison to the photograph, the subject is difficult to recognize. In his oeuvre of almost sixty-years, Gerhard Richter has repeatedly explored the painterly possibilities of figurativity and abstraction. He also attributed a representational quality to his abstract paintings. In an interview in 2008 he emphasized: »We also read abstract pictures, we search to find out what is being shown. Just colour, that would be boring.« [8] Weinernte approaches this hypothetical boundary from the opposite direction to the abstract paintings. With its virtuoso brush strokes, Richter's painting balances a fine line between representation and abstraction.

by Dietmar Elger

The essay is an excerpt of the exhibition catalogue

The Met: Exhibition Tour—Gerhard Richter: Painting After All (source: YouTube)

The following text is an excerpt of Dietmar Elger's essay »Behind the Curtain«
from the exhibition catalogue Achromatic

(...) The large-format photo edition Vorhang was created in 2012 [9] on the occasion of the retrospective which marked the artist's 80th birthday at the Neue Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and was offered through the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie (Friends of the Nationalgalerie). It is based on the painting Vorhang III (hell) of 1965, which is part of the collection of the Neue Nationalgalerie. The two works, painting and photograph, are almost identical in format. The painting is one of the curtain pictures Richter painted in the mid-1960s. In the artist's early oeuvre, these paintings mark the dividing line between figuration and incipient abstraction. They are the first paintings which are no longer based on photographic images, but nevertheless adhere to an illusionistic subject matter while at the same time presenting themselves as representations of concrete structures of alternating light and dark verticals.

The 2012 photograph is visually different from the painting because of its different materiality and, above all, its presentation under Perspex. Richter confirmed this difference between the two media in an interview with Robert Storr: »In the photograph, I take away the materiality of the painting, which brings me a little closer to pure illusion.« [11] And elsewhere he emphasises: »It has become a new object, not a copy of the painting.« [12] Richter had already highlighted the importance of appearance or semblance for his work in a diary note in 1989: »Illusion - or rather appearance, semblance is the central theme of my life.« [13] (...)

Exhibition view »Gerhard Richter: Panorama«, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2012

Photo David von Becker

The following text is an excerpt of Hubertus Butin's essay »Gerhard Richter: The Variety of Achromatic Images«
from the exhibition catalogue Achromatic

(...) For his painted editions, Gerhard Richter used cardboard, canvas, Alucobond, Alu-Dibond and glass, as well as unusual painting surfaces such as books, photographs and LP records. In 1981 he applied nitrocellulose lacquer to the Tri-Star LP produced two years earlier by Isa Genzken, on which the sound of a Tri-Star aeroplane's engine can be heard. [14] The grey paint forms a large, rounded pool on one side of the black record. The exhibited work is a proof, which differs from the copies of the edition. The grey colour surface normally has a clean, perfectly defined edge; this sample, however, shows an open, slightly uneven edge drawn with a brush. Before producing the edition, the artist obviously tried out an alternative method of applying paint. The painted side of the record can no longer be played. This evokes a very ambivalent cultural meaning: the treatment of the record with paint can be seen as a constructive collaborative work by Genzken and Richter, but also as a partial destruction of the Artist's Record. [15] (...)

[1] Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter - Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 332.
[2] Ibid., p. 91.
[3] Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Ostfildern 2011, p. 392-393, Cat. Rais. No. 195.
[4] Ibid., p. 399, Cat. Rais. No. 198.
[5] Fred Jahn (ed.), Gerhard Richter. Atlas, Munich 1989, p. 26.
[6] Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Ostfildern 2011, Cat. Rais. No. 196-3.
[7] Ibid., p. 394, Cat. Rais. No. 196-4.
[8] Gerhard Richter, qtd. in: Ulrich Wilmes, »Abstrakte Bilder müssen eine Richtigkeit haben. Gerhard Richter im Gespräch mit Ulrich Wilmes«, in: Ulrich Wilmes, Gerhard Richter. Zur Entstehung der Abstrakten Bilder, Schriften des Gerhard Richter Archiv Dresden, Vol. 5, Cologne 2009, p. 49.
[9] Hubertus Butin, Stefan Gronert and Thomas Olbricht (eds.), Gerhard Richter. Editionen 1965-2013, Ostfildern 2014, p. 325, Cat. Rais. No. 153.
[10] Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Ostfildern 2011, p. 146, Cat. Rais. No. 56.
[11] Gerhard Richter, quoted after Robert Storr, »Gespräch mit Gerhard Richter«, in: Gerhard Richter. Malerei, ed. by Robert Storr, exhib. cat. The Museum of Modern Art, New York et al., Ostfildern-Ruit 2002, p. 292 (German edition of the catalogue Gerhard Richter. Forty Years of Painting).
[12] Ibid., p. 293.
[13] Gerhard Richter, »Notizen 1989 (20.11.89)«, in: Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter. Text 1961 bis 2007. Schriften, Interviews und Briefe, Cologne 2008, p. 223.
[14] Hubertus Butin, Stefan Gronert und Thomas Olbricht (eds.), Gerhard Richter. Editionen 1965–2013, Ostfildern 2014, p. 247, Cat. Rais. No. 57.
[15] I thank Clemens Krümmel and Stefan Römer for the exchange of ideas about this work.

Hubertus Butin and Dietmar Elger

Silke Lemmes and Bianca Quasebarth

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