Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
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Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Abstraktes Bild (610-4)

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild (610-4)
signed, numbered and dated 'Richter 1986 610-4' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78¾ x 78¾ in. (200 x 200 cm.)
Painted in 1986.
Sperone Westwater, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987
B. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, 1993, Ostfildern-Ruit, p. 180, no. 610-4 (illustrated in color).
New York, Sperone Westwater/Marian Goodman Gallery, Gerhard Richter, March-April 1987, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Image of Abstraction, July-September 1988.
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Lot Essay

Abstraktes Bild (610-4) is a riot of color. Gerhard Richter has applied myriad colors with myriad techniques, creating a swirling arena of creation. In this multilayered mesh of paint and painting methods, the traces of the artist's actions are displayed for all to see, emphasising the picture's objecthood and its status as a painting, as the result of the specific movements of Richter himself.

The vortex-like energy of the appearance of Abstraktes Bild (610-4) is at odds with the gradual, almost calculated painting process through which it has come into existence. Richter usually paints more than one Abstract Picture at a time, taking a break from each work in order to retain a constantly fresh and cool perspective, a scientific distance. In this way, the painting's purity is not compromised by any emotional content, any over enthusiasm on the part of the artist. Instead, the picture is built up stroke by stroke, with long breaks during which Richter works on other paintings. In this way, he can ensure that no remotely figurative elements have come into play on the surface of the picture, while also avoiding any Action Painting-like sense of emotional outpouring, or Abstract Expressionism. The picture is without any narrative content. Indeed, the content is, plain and simple, this kaleidoscopic, firework-like explosion of color, and the catalog of brushstrokes and artistic decisions that have come to create it.

By keeping this distance, Richter built up Abstraktes Bild (610-4) gradually, beginning with a ground that had a purity which he deliberately disrupted with a brushstroke. Each new brushstroke suggests a subsequent move, the picture coming into existence through the artist's constant reactions to its appearance at any one time: "The Abstract Pictures: more and more clearly, a method of not having and planning the 'motif' but evolving it, letting it come" (G. Richter, 1985, quoted in H.-U. Obrist, ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. D. Britt, London, 1995, p. 120).

This gradual, in part self-determining evolution of the painting reflects Richter's own anti-authoritarian stance, the product of a life spent under too many ideologies (Fascism, Communism, Capitalism). Abstraktes Bild (610-4) is anarchy, it is freedom, it is a form of celebratory chaos, as he himself explained the same year that this work was painted:

"This plausible theory, that my abstract paintings evolve their motifs as the work proceeds, is a timely one, because there is no central image of the world (world view) any longer: we must work out everything for ourselves, exposed as we are on a kind of refuse heap, with no centre and no meaning; we must cope with the advance of a previously undreamt-of freedom. It also conforms to a general principle of Nature; for Nature, too, does not develop an organism in accordance with an idea: Nature lets its form and modifications come, within the framework of its given facts and with the help of chance" (G. Richter in 1986, quoted in Ibid., pp.128-29).

This intensely rational understanding of the irrational, this decentralised cosmogony, is reflected both in the swirling forms in Abstraktes Bild (610-4), which have been dragged into existence through a catalog of movements with brush and squeegee alike, and also in the process of viewing the work, itself a deliberately Sisyphean undertaking:

"I just wanted to reemphasize my claim that we are not able to see in any other way. We only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us. I see something and in my head I compare it and try to find out what it relates to. And usually we do find those similarities and name them: table, blanket, and so on. When we don't find anything, we are frustrated and that keeps us excited and interested until we have to turn away because we are bored. That's how abstract painting works" (G. Richter, quoted in R. Storr, "Interview with Gerhard Richter," pp. 287-309, R. Storr, ed., Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., New York, 2002, p. 304).

Richter's Abstract Pictures had emerged as the wild and ecstatic escape from, and reaction to, the stringent limitations of his Photorealist paintings, Color Charts and Gray pictures. Those works had all deliberately reduced the role of the painter to that of a machine-like automaton. Richter himself described it as creating photographs by other means. He explored the redundancy of both painting and representation in the modern, or even post-modern, age, and in that process he deliberately reduced the status of the painter from that of veneered artist to machine. The Abstract Pictures saw him painting despite his realisation of the obsolete nature of painting. In Abstraktes Bild (610-4), he has confronted these limitations and run with them, painting a picture that is, essentially, pure painting. And in so doing, he has created something to which the viewer cannot help but react. In the painting's expressive appearance, its monumental scale and bold colors, Richter ekes a reaction out of us, encouraging our enjoyment.

And it is evident that he too has enjoyed painting Abstraktes Bild (610-4), regardless of his detachment. Painting without the hamstrung constraint of the preordained image, Richter has the freedom to do whatever he desires on this vast, ever-shifting arena of oils. Richter translates this enjoyment to the viewer while also exploring an aspect of his intellectually rigorous exploration, investigation and resuscitation of painting. In this sense, Abstraktes Bild (610-4) fits every bill, as Richter himself recognised:

"There was a demand for paintings that I satisfied, and at the same time there was this conceptual notion against painting-- and so I served both sides. That was rather smart, a legitimation to enjoy them.

"Yes, pleasure without remorse. Because with this intellectual, conceptual background, you would always have an excuse. They are colorful and painterly but they are also very intellectual. Be careful!" (G. Richter, quoted in ibid., p. 287).

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