The British National Portrait Gallery shows an exhibition focusing only on portraits by the German conceptual painter Gerhard Richter.
Besides this one there are two more Richter shows currently touring Europe:
Now having seen all of them I think that it is definitely the best way to approach Richter’s difficult work by series, like abstracts or portraits. It is very impressive how many thoughts he put into his paintings –and this is easier visible if you compare side by side within a group of paintings.
Also the 'Portraits' exhibition is very good: It provides deep insight into this (today unfashionable) genre.
Richter is a painter who is constantly uncertain about what is today still possible for the medium painting itself and how to present reality by the means of art.
He applies this thinking also on his portraits: They don’t pretend to show the ‘real’ personality of the sitter seen by the ingenious eyes of the artist.
In contrary, many of these portraits frustrate this classic expectation by the viewer: In the famous portrait of his daughter Betty of 1988, she moves away. And you can’t even see her face in this ‘portrait’.
In his self-portrait of 1996 even Richter himself looks away on the floor.
Richter does not paint in real sittings – he paints from photos. To him a machine-made photo is the ‘most perfect picture’. A good start for a painting.
It is interesting to see that Richter varies his wide array of styles also within the niche of portraiture: Besides romantic photorealistic paintings like ‘Betty’ of 1988, there are also black and white portraits taken from his Atlas collection of photographs and found pictures.
One of Richter’s trademarks is his blurring technique: It can be observed in the painting ‘Ella’ of 2007. He uses a drag brush on the painting, when the paint is still wet. The National Portrait Gallery even offered a painting workshop led by artist Sadie Lee, where you could study his technique. (And maybe ‘richterize’ your own family album…)
There are many famous paintings in this exhibition. My favorite is ‘Erna. Nude on a Staircase’ of 1966. Maybe because of its clever art historic references to Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ of 1912.
I think this is really an outstanding exhibition - don't miss it!
by Ch. N.
Gerhard Richter at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 26/4/2009 – 31/5/2009