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Gerhard Richter

German, born 1932

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Born in Dresden in 1932, Gerhard Richter witnessed the postwar transformations of Europe from the marginal perspective of East Germany, where he trained as a commercial painter. In 1961 he moved to West Germany, where he began to explore the possibilities of painting, influenced by a newfound access to western artistic movements. In 1963 Richter and his German contemporaries Sigmar Polke and Konrad Fischer (1939 - 1996) staged Life with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism, an exhibition in a furniture store that recalled Fluxus happenings in its spontaneous and performative nature as well as Pop Art in its display of everyday objects.

In reaction to the simple visual forms of Pop Art and its interest in advertising and the commercialized object, Richter began to meticulously interrogate the photographic image in the early 1960s. Neun Objekte (Nine Objects) of 1969 embodies his fascination with and distrust of the assumed veracity of images. In these works, he uses offset lithography to capture the perspectival conundrums created by photographing wood strip shapes, further distancing reality from the world of representation.

Throughout his career, Richter purposefully avoided uniformity and simultaneously embraced multiple painting methods. His color-chart paintings, such as 180 Färben (180 Colors) of 1971, explore the permutations of primary colors with mathematical precision and exploit the artificiality inherent in any painting. Meanwhile, in Villa of 1972, Richter disassociates the idyllic landscape from its heritage in Romanticism, instead linking it to the triviality of a snapshot. Schwann (2) (Swan [2]) of 1989 and Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting) of 1990 demonstrate Richter's experimentation with abstraction, begun in the 1970s, and are at once lyrical and mechanical, passionate and rhetorical reminders of the possibilities and contradictions embedded in image-making.

Richter's work often seeks to evacuate traditional meaning from the depiction of images. The mirrored, stainless-steel surface of Piz Boval of 1992 seems to reject images rather than reflect them. He dissociates his landscapes, such as Piz Lagrev of 1995, from their heritage in the Romantic sublime by likening them to the triviality of a snapshot. In his 1998 Ophelia (Rhombus I), an enlarged, cropped, and magnified photographic image of a painting challenges the boundaries of both mediums. Taken as a whole, Richter's oeuvre possesses as much depth as breadth and demonstrates the artist's unceasing dual commitment to exposing the potential and the limitations of representation.

Notations: Kiefer, Polke, Richter, 2007

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