'Art and beauty are the preserves of hope in the face of an often hard to bear reality [Beauty is] the opposite of destruction, disintegration and damage we need beauty in all its variations (G. Richter quoted in A. Borchardt-Hume, 'Dreh Dich Nicht Um': Dont Turn Around. Richter's Paintings of the Late 1980s', Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2011, p. 174).
'I realise that these paintings set a new standard, set a challenge to me' (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne, 2002, p. 307).
Executed in 1989, Struktur (2) is a mesmeric and monumental abstraktes bild by Gerhard Richter, dating from his most important period of abstraction. Realised in the same year as the totemic fall of the Berlin Wall, the painting translates this powerful climate of change into its dynamic composition. In Struktur 2, Richter applies vast horizontal swathes of lustrous paint with staggering momentum and directional velocity. The resulting effect is exhilarating, the eye reeling from its cavalcade of brilliant, alabaster white and gunmetal grey. Breaking through from beneath this grisaille smoke screen are apertures of radiant colour, which transcend the great depths of its remarkably rich and thickly laden paint surface. This immense, painterly construction - marrying, obscuring and partially revealing layers of colour, draws a profound analogy with Germany's own ideological and physical barrier. Just as Struktur (2) offers glimpses of a world obscured beyond, so the Berlin Wall at this historic tipping point was to capitulate to the political and social change dawning across its border.
Dramatically resolved, Struktur (2) is one of four works created as part of Richter's Struktur series. Showcasing the artist's dexterity and special aptitude with a squeegee, the work offers multivalent pulls of paint that flow from a vertiginous height and from far left to extreme right of the painting. Through each subsequent addition and subtraction of paint, Richter engenders a remarkably modulated canvas, both romantic and elegiac, which denies representation yet invokes illusions from its sublime chaos. Included in the Hirschhorn Museum's landmark exhibition, Regarding Beauty: A View of the Late Twentieth Century, Struktur (2) has a unique, intangible beauty. As Agnes Martin once elaborated, in words that perfectly capture the special effect of Richter's abstract: 'all artwork is about beauty; all positive work represents it and celebrates it. All negative art protests the lack of beauty in our lives' (A. Martin, 1989, quoted in N. Benezra, O. M. Viso, A. C. Danto (eds.), Regarding Beauty: A View of the Late Twentieth Century, exh. cat., Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 1999, p. 134).
Realised shortly after the artist's 18th October 1977 cycle of photorealist paintings, Struktur 2 projects a breathtaking drama and can be understood as a coda to this landmark suite, now housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. As the artist acknowledged, 'I realise that these paintings set a new standard, set a challenge to me' (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne, 2002, p. 307). This challenge is met boldly in Stuktur 2. Exhibited at the Museum Boymens-van Beuningen, Rotterdam in 1989, Struktur 2 belongs to a cluster of abstract paintings including the great double paneled trilogy: January, December, and November (1989, catalogue raisonné: 699, 700 and 701) held in the Saint Louis Art Museum and the cycle of four abstract paintings entitled Eis (1989, catalogue raisonné: 706-1, 706-2, 706-3 and 706-4) held in the Art Institute of Chicago. Together these works are considered paragons of the artist's oeuvre and Struktur 2 with its awe inspiring scale and wide spectrum of surface effects can be regarded with resounding primacy amongst them.
Struktur (2) was created at a time of seismic change: the GDR soon to collapse and the European continent throwing off the mantle of repressive communist regimes. In a move that was almost prophetic of this political sea change, Richter turned in 1988, to the subject of the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the events of 18th October 1977. Fifteen works were undertaken within this cycle, documenting the deadly conclusion to the violence between the West German state and the far-left leaning terrorist group. Rendered from stark photocopies of the original photographs, Richter painted the mysterious death scenes and subsequent funerals of the figureheads of the RAF: Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Jan-Carl Raspe with speechless emotion.
Carried out in a palette of diametrically contrasting lead white and grey, the October cycle of paintings suspend their images in thick, velvety oil paint. This rich texture is translated into the viscous, tactile ripples of white paint, which spread like a glacial moraine across the canvas in Struktur (2). In Funeral (1988), the largest of the October works, Richter has depicted the funeral procession of Baader, Ensslin and Raspe in Stuttgart. The painting has a distinct dynamism, the image swept from left to right to the point of abstraction. Stuktur (2) shares this same pronounced horizontality, resonating like the blur of the photograph. In Funeral, the wake itself is hard to decipher, the three coffins of the RAF leaders appearing as brightly illuminated, but illegible spots in the center of the composition. Just as we search for meaning in the continuous haze of this scene, so we seek some figurative allegory in the multitude of visual effects conjured up by Struktur (2). As the artist has acknowledged, 'even those paintings that are supposed to be nothing but a monochrome surface are looked at in that same searching manner' (G. Richter quoted in A. Borchardt-Hume, 'Dreh Dich Nicht Um': Don't Turn Around. Richter's Paintings of the Late 1980s', Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2011, p. 173).
For Richter the Baader-Meinhof paintings were neither partisan nor confrontational, but motivated out of a desire for catharsis and reconciliation. A similar desire is articulated in the marriage of colour, horizontal and vertical movement in Struktur (2). As Richter has elaborated, 'I can also see my abstracts as metaphors in their own right, pictures that are about a possibility of social coexistence. Looked at in this way, all that I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom. No paradises' (G. Richter quoted in A. Borchardt-Hume, 'Dreh Dich Nicht Um': Don't Turn Around. Richter's Paintings of the Late 1980s', Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2011, p. 174).
In his series of Struktur paintings, Richter has arguably found the purest articulation of his abstract method, born out of more than five decades of experimentation. Coming full-circle from his early Table (1962) in which he cancelled his photorealist image with haptic swirls of grey paint, Richter began in the 1980s to freely overlay his canvases with colourful streaks and drags of pigment using his signature squeegee. Historically, abstraction had reduced painting to its essential elements, colour and shape, but for Richter it is the accumulation of myriad layers of paint and the contingency of the squeegee that imports such power to his work. This liberated action is simultaneously creative and destructive, a tussle between conscious control and freely surrendered art making. As the artist has explained, it is 'a method of allowing something objective to come into being; a theme for creating a simile (picture) of our survival strategy' (G. Richter quoted in A. Borchardt-Hume, 'Dreh Dich Nicht Um': Don't Turn Around. Richter's Paintings of the Late 1980s', Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2011, p. 173).
In Struktur (2), carried out at the height of his practice, Richter creates a work of sensual pleasure and perhaps unwitting beauty; the viewer marveling at the rich optical sensation of freely applied paint and colour. In Struktur (2) the cumulative layers of non-representational paint in pure white, cannot help but evoke the frozen landscape, glistening under ice. Richter does not seek to deny these experiences of his paintings, but instead embraces them. As the artist concludes, 'art and beauty are the preserves of hope in the face of an often hard to bear reality [Beauty is] the opposite of destruction, disintegration and damage we need beauty in all its variations' (G. Richter quoted in A. Borchardt-Hume, 'Dreh Dich Nicht Um': Don't Turn Around. Richter's Paintings of the Late 1980s', Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2011, p. 174).