The lot will be included in the forthcoming fourth volume of the Gerhard Richter. Catalogue raisonné, edited by the Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden.
Rendered in a rich, fiery palette, Abstrakte Bild (779-2) is a majestic painting dating from the height of Gerhard Richter's abstract practice. Painted the year that Richter exhibited his large scale Abstraktes Bilder to international acclaim at Documenta IX in Kassel, this work demonstrates the artist's mastery of his signature paint handling technique. Dramatically realized in opulent tones of blazing ochre and regal violet, this canvas offers up a panoply of vibrant color. Luxurious ribbons of pigment dart across the surface of the painting, gently parting in places to reveal the multi-colored residual layers below. Palimpsests of cerulean, indigo and primrose radiate through the beautifully worked surface in a celebration of Richter's intuitive and spontaneous painting style.
Gazing at the lush surface of Abstraktes Bild, the viewer can see traces of the broad range of techniques that Richter employs to create his abstract works. Using a variety of implements, ranging from traditional brushes to his signature use of the squeegee, Richter here combines his pigments into an intricate, grid-like tapestry of strokes, marks and liquescent applications of paint. There is a palpable sense of movement and dynamism in this work, the horizontal and vertical striations intersecting as the paint is brushed, dragged, splattered and streaked across the canvas. Discussing the contrasting applications of paint in his pictures Richter has explained, "I think this comes from music. It would be like playing music with one instrument only. When you sound a note on the violin it sounds totally different than played on a trumpet, etc. It would be too boring to use only one instrument" (G. Richter, quoted by S. Rainbird, "Variations on a Theme: The Painting of Gerhard Richter," in Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 1991, p. 20).
The use of the squeegee proved to be an important innovation for Richter, as it enabled him to surrender a certain element of artistic control whilst enhancing the physical qualities of the paint. To achieve the shimmering effect of Abstraktes Bild, Richter lays down multiple thin strata of paint; then, as the pigment begins to dry, drags the squeegee across the surface, disrupting his freshly painted top stratum to reveal a kaleidoscope of previous layers. By utilizing these methods he slowly and systematically ekes out the painting's final appearance in a gradual process that the artist has compared to a chess match. As Richter once stated, "I don't have a specific picture in my mind's eye. I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a pre-determined picture. Each picture has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic; it has to emerge as if inevitably. And by not planning the outcome, I hope to achieve the same coherence and objectivity that a random slice of Nature (or a Readymade) always possesses" (G. Richter, quoted in "Interview with Sabine Schz, 1990," in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 312).
Abstraktes Bild and Richter's other abstract paintings of the late 1980s and 1990s are the culmination of a five-decade long investigation into the possibilities of painting. Having first covered a photorealist image with swirls of grey pigment in his early work Table, 1962, Richter began in the 1980s to use the squeegee to spread thick, colorful streaks of paint over his canvases. Traditionally, abstract painting has pared back painting to its fundamental constituents, but for Richter it is from the buildup of countless layers of paint that his work derives its force. The rhythmic application of pigments with the squeegee is at once creative and destructive, a clash between conscious control and free, intuitive painting. As the artist has elaborated, "it is a good technique for switching off thinking consciously, I can't calculate the result. But subconsciously, I can sense it. This is a nice 'between' state" (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 251).
Abstraktes Bild hails from the finest period in Richter's abstraction, as the paintings created between 1989 and 1994 represent the purest articulation of the artist's improvised technique. Indeed the early 1990s was a time of great professional satisfaction for Richter. His breakthrough exhibition at Tate Gallery, London, took place in 1991 while Documenta IX was the first major presentation of his work in Germany since the showing of 18 October 1977 in Krefeld in 1989. He went on in 1993 to receive a major touring retrospective, Gerhard Richter: Malerei 1962-1993, curated by Kasper König, accompanied by a three volume catalogue edited by Benjamin Buchloh. This exhibition grouped together 130 works spanning thirty years of Richter's practice and was to completely reinvent his career.
In Abstraktes Bild Richter has fully embraced the contingency of his medium, enjoying the effects of his impulsive yet confident application of paint. The artist has conceded the viewer's desire to identify familiar imagery and forms as part of the irrepressible human quest for meaning, acknowledging that "even those paintings that are supposed to be nothing but a monochrome surface are looked at in that searching manner" (G. Richter, quoted in R. Storr, "Interview with Gerhard Richter," reproduced in Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 1991, p. 171). The richly colored, highly elaborate surface of Abstraktes Bild inspires such a search yet it also frustrates it, its appearance determined by the traversing of the squeegee. As Richter has asserted, "every time we describe an event, add up a column of figures or take a photograph of a tree, we create a model; without models we would know nothing about reality and would be like animals. Abstract paintings are fictitious models because they visualize a reality, which we can neither see nor describe, but which we may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality; the un-known, the un-graspable, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted it in terms of substitute images live heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can be neither seen nor understood" (G. Richter quoted in R. Nasgaard, "Gerhard Richter," Gerhard Richter: Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1988, p. 107).