Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter
November, 1993
p. 158

Gerhard Richter is one of the few artists who has not bowed to the unwritten art-world dictum that an artist must choose between image and abstraction. For over 30 years, he has alternately leaned heavily in both directions, but the look within each genre has remained fairly consistent. In his realist paintings of people, landscapes, and still life's, he uses thin layers of paint, flat and soft-focused to the point of appearing almost airbrushed. For this show, Richter included one small floral still life along with 13 of his large abstract paintings, in which layers of various saturated hues have been scraped across the canvas.

In contrast to the premeditation of the realist paintings, the abstract works are totally dependent on chance-the scraper in its journey reveals some colors while blending or obscuring others. Occasionally, the path of the scraper forms stripes or, as in the case of the four square two-color canvases sparely titled Green/Blue, a laser like moire. The success of these abstract painting depends almost entirely on the degree of brilliance in the color, the least compelling being those in which the color has become muddied, as in an over washed madras plaid.

The installation contrasted the small, airy painting of white and yellow flowers at the far end of the gallery with the dense, oversize abstractions flanking it. Both genres are immediately appealing: one because of its sentimentality, the other its lack of it. However, despite the beauty and seductiveness of the painting, there is an intentional detachment and almost machinelike coldness of execution. The work becomes not a personal statement but an intellectual exercise in which Richter seems to be questioning the validity of the painting itself – without providing any answers.


-Carol Diehl