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

Abstraktes Bild (748-6)

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild (748-6)
signed, numbered and dated '748-6 Richter 1991' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
44 1/8 x 40¼in. (112 x 102cm.)
Painted in 1991
Galerie Liliane et Michel Durand-Dessert, Paris.
Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, no. 748-6 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Paris, Galerie Liliane et Michel Durand-Dessert, Gerhard Richter, March-April 1991 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis. Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Lot Essay

Abstraktes Bild (748-6) is one of a series of paintings created by Gerhard Richter in 1991 in which the predominance of red provides a particularly rich contribution to his abstract paintings project. As part of a series of six paintings of the same size, Abstraktes Bild (748-6) consists of a multilayered mesh of pigment and painting methods that establishes two distinct zones of painterly movement. In this work, paint is pulled across the canvas in an axis of broken vertical and horizontal lines, under which it is possible to observe additional layers of colour below. Opposing textures and moods are created in the hazy left half of the painting and the clearly striated right side, which vie equally for the eye's attention. These rigid lines of force, combined with the varying levels of density across the divided picture plane work to both reveal and undermine a pictorial depth to the painting, creating a perceptual ambiguity that belies its intellectual content.

The resulting painting is full of visual excitement, assailing the viewer's eyes with its intense pigmentation and unexpected surface effects. The traces of the artist's actions are displayed for all to see, emphasising the picture's objecthood and its status as a painting. This torrent of painterly action suggests the potency of Abstract Expressionist painting at its best, yet Richter arrives at this point by a dramatically different method. It would be wrong to explain Abstraktes Bild (748-6) in terms of revelation, transcendence or purely subjective and emotionally driven gesture, for the apparent energy of Richter's abstract works are in fact the result of a seemingly contradictory relationship between cool calculation and elements of chance.

Richter started working on polychromatic abstractions in 1976, a move prompted by a contrary desire to produce the exact opposite of his monochromatically severe Grey Pictures. In creating his first abstract pictures, he employed a process similar to that of his celebrated photo-based paintings. After creating a number of sketches in oil paint, he photographed and projected enlargements of them onto large canvases, replicating the enlarged abstract detail in oil paint and working the surface into a smooth state of finish which suggests the glossy surface of a photograph. For Richter, photography has consistently provided a mediating tool that put the personalised aspect of painting at a distance, releasing it from associations with the subjective expression of the artist. Richter's subsequent "free" versions of abstract pictures, like Abstraktes Bild (748-6), do not employ photographic intermediaries, however, but are produced by laying a selection of colours upon the canvas with a palette knife, then scraping them out over the canvas in different directions using the edge of a board. The process of scraping the pigments allowed for an element of controlled chance, as they spread out in unpredictable patterns. The painting consists of layer upon layer of paint, applied in a manner that makes it almost impossible to decipher how many layers have accumulated, or what the order of application was, as they are blurred and scraped together. Despite the apparent immediacy and energy of these works, Richter usually paints more than one Abstract Picture at a time, taking long breaks during which he works on other paintings. In this way, Richter maintains an almost scientific distance from his work, a method that he has adopted so that the painting's purity is not compromised by any emotional content or over enthusiasm on the part of the artist.

The construction of these paintings is a continuously willed avoidance of slipping into any pattern of repetition or system, with the conscious aim of creating a unity out of disparity and non-cohesiveness. By combining conscious artistic systems of invention, including the arrangement of colour, abstract form and composition with processes of negation, Richter claims the final outcome should be considered a product of chance. This theory follows Richter's consistent rejection of artificially maintained consistencies of style, a conscious conceptual act that allows him to freely investigate the basic principles of painting and to adopt whatever idiom best suits his purpose. Having lived through a succession of historical ruptures in Germany that were charged by ideological extremes, Richter is acutely aware of the dangers of subsuming the will to such artificial rules of thinking and he has pointedly refused to put stock in any single movement or philosophical dogma. Instead, he evades any sense of sentiment or ideology by ensuring that each mark he makes on the canvas is unique and independent from the other.

While Richter's preliminary decisions clearly effect the direction of his abstract works, the deliberate employment of a variety of accidental elements means the final form escapes his control, and it is this ambiguity that results in the richly layered conglomeration of abstract form and colour of Abstraktes Bild (748-6). In describing his attitude toward painting, Richter has emphasised a sense of awe toward the task of creation and the inherently flawed nature of communication that is painting. 'When I paint an Abstract Picture,' Richter described, 'I neither know in advance what it is meant to look like nor, during the painting process, what I am aiming at and what to do about getting there. Painting is consequently an almost blind, desperate effort, like that of a person abandoned, helpless, in totally incomprehensible surroundings' (G. Richter, quoted in J. Harten & D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985, Dusseldorf, 1986, p. 89). Yet, alongside Richter's deconstruction of the role and the glory of the artist, and his deliberate mockery of the visual language of Action Painting, lies an inherent love of paint and of colour, providing him with a source of guiltless solace and release that he has identified to be 'the highest form of hope'.

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