Gerhard Richter Festival

4096 Colors, 1974The 80-year old master artist captures German life, love, death and history

Berlin is celebrating a great German painter. Works of Gerhard Richter, who recently turned 80, are being shown simultaneously at three different Berlin venues, and long lines of people are waiting to get a look. What’s so special about him?

The Wall Street Journal wrote: He is one of the most prolifi c contemporary painters; he makes paintings and objects which give the art market that which the art market wants. In the last 30 years the prices of his work have increased 2000-fold (!).

Certainly many people come to get a look at such expensive paintings. On entering the great hall of Berlin’s New National Gallery you immediately see one of Richter’s objects – four gigantic panes of glass, transparent and mirroring. Completely in Richter’s manner they are slightly blended and hazy, making you a part of the exhibition. A sensual approach to his theme: what do we perceive when we look at the world?

Betty, 1977 Museum Ludwig, Cologne / Private Collection

Going through the exhibition, one begins to get an idea: Richter’s perception of the world radiates a strength which mirrors life, death, German history, everyday life and love. Take, for example, the candle. In the show a picture of one is hanging next to one of a skull – side by side; they seem to form a religious diptych. In the center of the hall, which is fi lled to overfl owing, the two works appear to be an island. Richter himself supervised the hanging. The painting of the candle shines and appears to fl icker toward the painting of the skull. That has the force of touching one’s soul, and the colors are quite subdued. Since 1962, Richter has been collecting newspaper clippings, photos, sketches, color studies and pictures in his “Atlas” to use for his paintings. This is also true for the candle and for one of his best known works, the picture cycle on the suicide of German terrorists of the so-called Red Army Fraction, “18. October 1977”, which can be seen in Berlin’s Old National Gallery. For Richter, the death of the terrorists was horrific.

Richter has worked parallel in many styles. Sometimes he has worked over his originals many times, so that several cycles have emerged. Sometimes they are both abstract as well as representative, black/ white, grey, many colors. The cycle of candle paintings alone encompasses 31 paintings. The Wall Street Journal reports that the candle paintings went, in the early 80s, for about $1000 per work. In the fall of 2011, a collector paid $16.5 million for one of these paintings. Gerhard Richter, this friendly and modest philosopher among the painters, cannot understand this. Some of the visitors to the exhibition might be sorry that in 1980 they didn’t notice…

Reader, 1994 San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtCandle, 1982 Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden

Régine Deguelle is a TV journalist, producer and author.


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