Panorama. The retrospective brings together a selection of his 150 major works which offers a double insight, both chronological and thematic, into his career from the 1960's until his most recent works. Ever since the start of his career, Gerhard Richter has been experimenting with radically different pictorial styles: from the 'photo-paintings' with new form of abstraction to a new kind of abstract paintings suffused with acid colours in which geometric and gestural shapes dissolve.
curated by Camille Morineau, assisted by Lucia Pesapane
From June 6th 2012, the Centre Pompidou pays tribute to Gerhard Richter, one of the great figures of contemporary painting. The result of a team effort with London’s Tate Modern, and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Panorama retrospective at the Centre Pompidou brings together a selection of 150 major works by Gerhard Richter. The artist has been fully involved in the original design conceived specifically for the exhibition which offers a double insight, both chronological and thematic, into his career from the 1960’s until his most recent works.
“I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no programme, no style, no direction. I like the indefinite, the boundless. I like continual uncertainty.”
Gerhard Richter has this uncanny ability to reinvent and transform himself, and yet every time to push his work into a new direction and to promote a new vision of painting and of art history. Ever since the start of his career, Gerhard Richter has been experimenting with radically different pictorial styles. Thus, moving away in the seventies from the “photo-paintings” he had created from photographs in the early sixties, Richter embraced a new form of abstraction in which he blended colour grids, gestural abstraction and monochromes. All through the 1980’s he kept reinventing the historical genres of the portrait, landscape and historical painting, imbuing them with his own erudite and innovative manner. At the same time, he was also exploring a new kind of abstract paintings suffused with acid colours in which geometric and gestural shapes dissolve. In the 1990s, the artist fine-tuned what would become his signature technique of spreading wet paint with a large wooden or metal board.
His first exhibition in a French museum took place at the Centre Pompidou in 1977. In addition to celebrating the artist’s 80th birthday, Panorama is a tribute to one of the greatest painters of the past fifty years.
The catalogue Gerhard Richter. Panorama is published by the Éditions du Centre Pompidou and edited by Camille Morineau, curator of the exhibition and at the Musée national d’art moderne. Organised by Centre Pompidou in association with Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Tate Modern, London
At the same time the Louvre presents Gerhard Richter, Dessins et aquarelles, 1957-2008, from June 7th to september 17th 2012.
The exhibition Gerhard Richter has been supported by LVMH / Moët Hennessy . Louis Vuitton
“Painting from a photograph seemed to me the most unartistic thing that anyone could do.” Gerhard Richter appeared on the European scene in the early 1960s with works inspired directly from photographs, which he called “photo-paintings”. He immediately became established as an alternative to American Pop Art and European informal art, defending a new vision of painting.His works, produced on the basis of his own photographs or images selected from the newspapers are imbued with a strict expressive neutrality. However, his selection of subjects made him one of the first artists of his generation to face up to Germany’s Nazi past and the emergence of a Western consumer culture. The fidelity to the original image is the result of a classic duplication procedure: after squaring up the photos, the image is enlarged by means of an episcope, then recopied onto the chosen medium. The final blurred effect is obtained by rubbing the still-wet paint with a brush, either in horizontal bands or by blurring the edges.
Inheriting a tradition
“I do see myself as the heir to a vast, great, rich culture of painting which we have lost, but which places obligations on us.” Richter disagreed with Marcel Duchamp’s proclamations on the end of painting as an artistic medium, stressing its powerful link with reality. With his large canvases representing landscapes, mountains, clouds and seascapes, he has established himself as an heir to the German Romantic tradition. His vast spaces where nature is the only protagonist recall the melancholy panoramas of Caspar David Friedrich. Richter invites us to undergo a spiritual experience linked to the contemplation of a grandiose nature; sublimated and impenetrable. With his Clouds series, which he began in 1968, he nevertheless borrows from Duchamp the notion of chance of which the latter was so fond. This ever-changing, unpredictable and inconsistent motif enabled him to oppose even the very idea of form, and to define a method of anti-composition.
Opposing the motif
“I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no programme, no style, no direction. I like the indefinite, the boundless. I like continual uncertainty.” In the late 1960s, Gerhard Richter’s pictorial language underwent its first radical shift with his first non-figurative compositions. These canvases extend the experiment with chance begun in the Clouds series, but developing towards abstraction. In the Colour Charts, inspired by the colour samples offered in paint shops, the artist suppresses any figurative element, gesture or message. The rectangles are faultless, the colours smooth and uniform. The layout may be random but the rectangles are laid out according to a strictly determined protocol. During the same period, Richter returned to his photo-paintings and created the Details series; photographs of details of existing paintings enlarged and projected onto canvas. The chromatism of this series enabled him to experiment in a different manner with a range of infinite shades.
“Horrible gaudy sketches, sentimental things functioning through the association of ideas; anachronistic, stereotypical, ambiguous, practically pseudo-psychodramatic and therefore unintelligible, without meaning or logic, if indeed there must be any.” Following the first experiments with non-figurative language, the works of the 1980s present more lyrical compositions: the gesture surges with energy, splattered paint, brushstrokes and flat sweeps of colour challenge one another, creating breathtaking contrasts on canvases of frequently monumental format. Rapid movement alternates with more careful work with the aerograph and brush; the process of creation is long and laborious. The artist often allows several months to pass between the layers of paint. This pictorial space is not constructed to be harmonious, but complex: the paintings of Richter function like models “of a varied and constantly changing world”. The 1980s mark the beginning of the large abstract canvases which today represent two thirds of the artist’s production and which have earned him international recognition.
“Letting a thing come, rather than creating it.”
In the 1990s, Gerhard Richter continued to paint abstract canvases using a large wooden plank and a metal squeegee which spreads the still-wet paint and gives it a fluid aspect with multiple hues. Once he has applied several layers of paint, Richter scrapes them in broad vertical and horizontal movements. The colour is randomly fixed to the canvas and the interplay of superimposition creates unexpected mattered effects. The veil of paint thus spread partially hides the underlying surface and allows only some details of the canvas to emerge. Often, at a later stage, the artist scratches and tears off pieces of canvas in an ongoing process of construction and deconstruction. As with his abstracts from the preceding decade, Richter accepts the appearance of figurative forms in these works, and explains how this is often inevitable: the spectator cannot prevent him or herself from seeing something even in the most abstract paintings, “because everything is rooted in the world; everything relates in some way to the world and experience”.
Seeing through: grey and glass
“Grey is a colour – and sometimes, to me, the most important of all.
Grey was absent of opinion, nothing, neither/nor. It was also a means of manifesting my own relationship with apparent reality. I didn’t want to say: “It is thus and not otherwise.” Closely paralleling his personal worries, Richter began to paint dark works in a period of uncertainty and unhappiness. These were born during a destructive instant in which the artist, dissatisfied with the result of a figurative painting, decided to erase it by covering it with a layer of grey paint. Although identical at first sight, each canvas is different from the others: the shades of grey, the modulations of the light on the surface, the way in which the paint is spread out with a roller, paintbrush or fingers; all produce a set of optical variations. Another device enabling the artist to force an acuteness of regard on spectators, the Panes of Glass implode the concept of painting as a window open onto the world. Glass, which Richter has used throughout his career, also led him to work with mirrors, starting in the early 1980s.
“The classical is what holds me together. It is that which gives me form. It is the order that I do not have to attack. It is something that tames my chaos or holds it together so that I can continue to exist. That was never a question for me. That is essential for life.” Among the paintings of the classical genre revisited by Richter, landscapes find an increasingly important place in his work. Always painted from photographs taken during his travels or of his surrounding environment, these canvases give pride of place to nature and the sky, without any human presence. The sometimes misty, diaphanous, opaque atmosphere obtained through the use of various techniques of shading accentuates their melancholic and atemporal nature.
“I have painted my family so frequently because they are the ones who really affect me most.” Richter painted his first portraits in the mid 1960s. The most recent, Ella (his second daughter) dates from 2007. This portrait gallery is composed solely of representations of people close to the artist, and, exceptionally, a self-portrait. In 1965, Gerhard Richter painted his uncle Rudi, his aunt Marianne and his father Horst. He painted his uncle in Nazi uniform, taking inspiration from a photograph in which he posed, smiling, and which was taken shortly before he died in the war. The portrait of his mentally fragile aunt Marianne is based on a photograph showing her with Richter as a child, before she was killed by the Germans as part of the Third Reich’s eugenics programme. The dark atmosphere of these first portraits is directly linked to the traumatic experience of the war. But a feeling of intimacy both sublime and natural also emanates from the portraits of his wife and children, and of his friends and family.
18 October 1977
“It’s about grief - compassion and grief. Certainly also fear.”
Following his indirect references to Germany’s past in some of the 1960s photo-paintings, Richter took up historical painting once again in 1988. The series, entitled “18 October 1977”, evokes the date of the death of the leaders of the revolutionary Baader-Meinhof group on 18 October 1977 in Stammheim prison. Under the single title of this fateful date, these fifteen paintings based on press photographs describe a series of events which took place over a longer period; the arrest, death and funerals of the founder members of the RAF (Red Army Faction): Holger Meins, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe. The artist here creates a kind of profane chapel of remembrance to this traumatic event in German history.
Continuing to paint
« A lot of people find other mediums more attractive-put a screen in a museum and nobody wants to look at the painting anymore. But painting is my profession, because it has always been the thing that interested me most. And now I’m of a certain age, I come from different tradition and, in any case, I can’t do anything else. I’m still very sure that painting is one of the most basic human capacities, like dancing and singing, that make sense, that stay with us, as something human. It’s not that I’m always thinking about how to make something timeless, it’s more a desire to maintain a certain artistic quality that moves us, that goes beyond what we are, and that is, in that sense, timeless.”
Image: Betty [Betty], 1988. Oil on canvas, 102 × 72 cm, Saint Louis Art Museum © Gerhard Richter, 2012
75191 Paris cedex 04
00 33 (0)1 44 78 12 87
00 33 (0)1 44 78 49 87
75191 Paris cedex 04
11am – 9pm every day, ex. Tuesdays and 1 May
€11 - €13, depending on time
concessions €9 - €10
ticket valid the same day for the Musée national d’art moderne and all exhibitions
Free for under-18s and members of the Centre Pompidou