Picasso of the 21st Century: Gerhard Richter Turns 90
Before a hundred of Richter’s works will be semi-permanently exhibited here in 2023 (they are supposed to go on a permanent loan to the new “Museum of the 20th Century” when it opens (hopefully in 2026)), The Neue Nationalgalerie is hosting a special exhibition of publications made by the artist.
Photo by: Patterns. Gerhard Richter 2022, Dietmar Katz
Gerhard Richter turned 90 on February 9th, and three cities in Germany are celebrating him in full this year. There’s an exhibition in Dresden, his hometown, where he curated a personal show, consisting of 40 pieces, with most of the works coming from his own collection and the Foundation. Then, there’s an exhibition of drawings (his current preferred medium) in Düsseldorf, where the artist studied and lived in his early career, at the Sies and Höke gallery (till February 26th) and another one of his infamous Birkenau Cycle at K21. Finally, in Berlin, on view are a large array of books, spanning over several decades, his abstract painting Atelier that is in the museum’s collection, as well as prints from the neighboring Kupferstichkabinett. Like the other two exhibitions, the Berlin’s show is loosely grouped around Richter himself (even though the artist always denied painting his private life), portraiture, photography, and the notion of chance.
Irrespective of being the world’s top-selling artist, Richter chooses to remain private and avoids publicity. You might have watched "Never Look Away" ("Werk ohne Autor") based on Richter's life, but the artist shied away from its making. All in all, Richter denies the objectivity of his success, noting in his very few interviews a discrepancy between the value and relevance of art and highly inflated prices. He also criticizes the contradictions of the art scene with its poverty, lies and deceit.
These views seem to last life-long. He grew up in a socialist East Germany and then, after escaping to Düsseldorf where he studied art, he founded the Capitalist Realism movement along with Sigmar Polke, criticizing the invasion of American capitalism and consumerism into West Germany. Richter continuously questions everything. He rejects the binaries: there’s no abstract versus figurative, conceptual versus object art, or painting versus photography. His diversity of style and medium are bewildering, the only constants being the technique of blurring and his love for grey color. "I pursue no intentions, no system, no direction," he said in 1966. "I have no program, no style, no concern." That’s not a small life motto.
As often as Richter takes on painting subjects of political conflict (think, October 18, 1977, Mr. Heyde, Uncle Rudi, Birkenau series, etc.), because of his unique style and technique, he is able to assert and transcend non-affiliation to the subject matter and let the viewer make his own partisan judgement. It’s a true genius of the artist.
“Art is the pure realization of religious feeling, capacity for faith, longing for God. The ability to believe is our outstanding quality, and only art adequately translates it into reality. But when we assuage our need for faith with an ideology we court disaster,” – Richter once wrote, but his note is evergreen. Berlin, a place of reflection, is truly blessed to become home of the great artist’s works in the coming years.
Video: Gerhard Richter Künstlerbücher. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin