“The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its way of informing and in what it informs of, it is my source.”
For more than six decades, Gerhard Richter has plumbed the relationship between photography and painting, affirming the vitality of the latter medium in the face of new technologies and mass media. Across his work, he has maintained a critical distance from painting and its legacies, deconstructing the medium’s conventions to reveal its potential anew. Raised in East Germany, he arrived late to the Western avant-garde, resulting in a stylistically diverse body of work that has confronted the historical trauma of the Holocaust, put European and American art in dialogue, and reconceived the old-master genres of landscape and portraiture.
Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1932, Richter is based in Cologne. He grew up under the Third Reich and National Socialism and studied at the Art Academy in Dresden (1952–57), where he painted murals in the Socialist Realist aesthetic. In 1959, he was transformed by viewing the work of Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana at Documenta, Kassel. A month before the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, Richter enrolled in the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. He soon painted his first mature work, Tisch (Table, 1962): a photorealist grayscale painting of a table obscured by gestural brushwork. With Sigmar Polke and Konrad Lueg in 1963, Richter formed Capitalist Realism, a short-lived group that satirized Pop. His first solo exhibition was mounted the following year at Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf. Richter began using a projector, painting and then blurring newspaper images and family snapshots to create works underscored by a brooding critique of commodity culture, fascism, and war. In 1966, he began to exhibit internationally and initiated his Color Charts (1966–2008), copies of paint sample cards, and Gray Paintings (1966–2014). He painted townscapes, flowers, monochromes, and abstract canvases that resonated with the Neo-Expressionism of the early 1980s, often using his squeegee technique. In 1988, he executed a cycle of fifteen paintings titled October 18, 1977, based on press photographs of the Baader-Meinhof gang and their deaths. His 2014 Birkenau Paintings revisited photographs smuggled from a Nazi death camp in 1944, rendering them as dense abstractions.
Numerous retrospectives have been dedicated to Richter’s work, including those at Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (1971, 1986); Centre Pompidou, Paris (1977, 2012); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1986, 2012, 2023); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (1988, 2003); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1989, 2002); Tate, London (1991, 2011); Art Institute of Chicago (2002); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2002); Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (2017); Met Breuer, New York (2020); and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2022). He participated in numerous iterations of Documenta (1972, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2007, and 2017) and the Venice Biennale (1972, 1997, 2001, 2007). Among his many honors are the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion and the Praemium Imperiale Award from the Japan Art Association (both 1997).
- Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts
- Dominique Lévy, London
October 13, 2015 - January 16, 2016
Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts (2015–16) at Dominique Lévy featured a vital group of paintings selected from the artist’s original nineteen Colour Charts produced in 1966. Presented with the support of the Gerhard Richter Archive, the exhibition was the first to focus on the earliest works of this series since their inaugural appearance at Galerie Friedrich and Dahlem, Munich, in 1966. At once paradoxical and coalescent, the Colour Charts highlight an important moment in the artist’s career and are situated across multiple leading art movements of the twentieth century.
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