I consider him the most influential painter alive. Every art student, every art historian has to work off at this ingenious oeuvre. I don’t recall any Artist, who reflects the political fates of the second half of the 20th century in his art more, than Gerhard Richter:
He spent most of his early childhood in Nazi Germany. When World War II ended, he was only 13 years old. In 1951, he started his art studies at Dresden Academy of Fine Arts
There, he received a profound training in academic drawing and painting skills in order to follow the official Socialist realism style. Since 1932, this was the favored style and state doctrine by the Soviet leader, Josef Stalin, who forced it on all countries of the Eastern block. Visual art, basically had to praise the merits of Socialism in heroic, representational paintings. He said, ‘It became increasingly ideological. For example, we weren’t able to borrow books that dealt with the period beyond the onset of Impressionism because that was when bourgeois decadence set in.’
Richter had the chance to see Documenta II (1959) in Kassel: He was deeply impressed by the different kind of art that was featured there: Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism promised freedom of expression, which would not have been possible in the GDR.
Reliable research confirmed that the CIA secretly promoted exhibitions of abstract expressionism to gain a PR advantage in the cold war: USA aimed to present themselves as a political system of freedom and freedom of artistic expression. (It is an irony: Tom Braden, the responsible CIA director for these projects at that time, recently stated, ‘It was very difficult to get Congress to go along with some of the things we wanted to do (…). That's one of the reasons it had to be done covertly. It had to be a secret. In order to encourage openness we had to be secret.’)
In 1961, Richter defected with his wife to West Germany – only a few weeks before the GDR started the construction of the Berlin Wall. He wrote to his teacher, ‘The reasons are largely to do with my career […] When I say that the whole cultural ‘climate’ in the West offers me and my artistic endaevours more, that it is more compatible with my way of being and my way of working than the climate in the East.’
He started to study Western art at Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. That is where he made friends with fellow students: Blinky Palermo, Sigmar Polke and Konrad Fischer aka Lueg. In 1963, they organized an exhibition of their work at a local furniture shop and coined the style ‘capitalist realism’.
Also inspired by American pop art, Gerhard Richter started to paint from found images and thus laid the basis for his famous treasury of public and private photos, the ‘Atlas’. He once said, ‘The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style.’
Since the 1970s, Gerhard Richter started to create abstract works simultaneously with his representational paintings in a wide array of styles. In many works, he introduced the element of chance: By using industrial color charts or imitating abstract expressionism by pushing color through a silkscreen printing frame.
Different from the previous exhibition in London, the Berlin show will also feature a unique highlight: Gerhard Richter has completed Version I of his abstract, aleatoric work 4900 Colours which, at a length of over 200 metres, will encompass the entire exhibition.
Gerhard Richter seems to have been a special kind of artistic soil that grew in two different kinds of floor: The East and the West. And from this starting point on, he was able to challenge almost all questions in painting.
Through 13th May 2012