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

Abstraktes Bild (646-3)

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild (646-3)
signed, numbered and dated '646-3 Richter 1987' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
47¼ x 39 3/8 in. (120 x 100 cm.)
Painted in 1987.
Studio d'Arte Cannaviello, Milan
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1988
B. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, p. 183, no. 646-3 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Richter has stated that "Painting is the creation of an analogy to the nondescriptive and unintelligible," but here in Abstraktes Bild, the turbulent atmospheres that arises from the artist's interventions, reside in their minute differentiations one from the other and the infinitesimal degree of interpretive choices open to the beholder. The chance operations Richter employs propose that all marks and pictorial incident are equally valid and that all results are worthy of the viewer's interest. Richter's fusion, or rather democratization, of color also declares that no color is pre-eminent, nor does one color or other assert affective dominance. That these works are non-compositional in that their sense of a unitary field does not arise from traditional organization, the parts balancing a whole, makes them both compelling and baffling. And while the scrapes and smears record a physical presence at once mesmerizing and suggestive, the virility of their tactile presence draws the viewer in. There is in the present work, in its vertical scrapes and open fields, a sense of small seismic implosions that eviscerate the painted surface, leaving only pockets of color and voids of erasure.
While landscapes recur in the photo paintings of the 1980s, Richter's leanings toward abstraction can be remarked even in his photo-realist essays, for example, in such works as Buschdorf (572-5) of 1985 that meld both the atmospheric landscape with its clumps of biomorphically-shaped trees against open sky, into a blurred and tremulous wash of ethereal vapors. This bewitching atmospheric study is mirrored in the equally dense abstraction of the present work, whose hues borrow from such scenes both its voided spaces and its verdant tones. The reference to landscape is apt for its relation to a mediant point between the present work and its precursor, Krems, from the previous year, 1986. In a merging of photo-realsim with abstraction, Richter over-paints in gestural style a rhyme with trees and rooftops, painterly brush marks and pointillist smears of the squeegee that refer, within their thick verticals and their alternating opaqueness and transparencies, to the more roughened and thoroughgoing implosion of surface in the present work. The striations that span the canvas of Abstraktes Bild while perhaps created by different means and for different purposes, nonetheless resonate with the photo-realist renderings and Neue Wilde spirit of Richter's 1980s works.
Thus, contradictory elements such as violence and serenity, destruction and growth, mimetic intentionality and chance operations combine in this work to touch the viewer, with its multivalent interpretive possibilities, both offering and retracting meaning. Capturing both the natural world and the mechanized world, the present work can be understood to addresses the fundamental questions of color and line, expressive intention, perception of depth and surface, as well as the multitude of expressive possibilities projected by the viewer onto illusionistic space-in other words, the fundamental questions of painting since the Renaissance. What is at stake in Richter's work-as here in this painting-is the tensions that arise between process of application and the performance of legibility: "Despite illusionistic overtures in the abstract works, Richter's painting denies itself an appropriating grasp through the closedness of the painting that pulls itself back into itself" (B. Söntgen, "Work on the Picture: The Discretion of Gerhard Richter, p. 42, in Gerhard Richter Large Abstracts, Ostfildern, 2008). Although we sense that this painting may be closed to us, we take hold of the wonder of the material traces Richter has remaindered.

Early in 1980, Richter fashioned his first squeegee, the spatula-like tool that when drawn across discrete viscous blobs, creates a visual pattern approaching figuration. As the blade courses over the canvas, scumbling the oily globules out of which a heightened concatenation of hues emerge only to break open into others, the crevices created by skips of the blade randomly interchange foreground and background in which scintillations of light and pigment expand and shrink in limitless fluctuations. In the artist's Abstraktes Bild paintings, the visual spectacle that lies in the wake of the blade coalesces and stabilizes the painted surface, "suspended between an almost trance-inducing chromatic opulence and an intrusively concrete specificity of procedural and processual detail" (B. Buchloh, "The Chance Ornament," Artforum, February 2012, p. 172). Richter shifts authority from the artist's hand to the mechanical device, and one effect of this technical transfer is to foreground pictorial incident rather than authorial intention, the landscape of events which, as wet on wet overlays dry, are embalmed in fissures and cuts in which color has been impaled.
Even so, Richter's abstracts are paintings in the conventional sense, too, because in them is embedded evidence of our experience of painting as such. There is gesture, even if in some sense mechanical (a mechanical tool, the squeegee, mediates the evidence of the artist's "hand"); there is surface texture and tactility; there is a perceptible effect on the viewer; and there is most emphatically pigment spread over a vertical canvas. And there are also the dual pressures of fortune and chance, the traces of which are left visible. We read things into Richter's abstractions although no source image is used, nor is one intentionally latent in the result. And while the image per se may come to resemble flowing lava or a lunar landscape, for Richter his surfaces represent only one state in a set of variables that he has acted upon, and which on another canvas will form themselves in an infinite variety of protean exertions.
Alternating between landscapes, the grey paintings, and color charts through the remainder of the 1960s and into the 1970s, Richter began his abstract paintings at the end of the decade. Through scraping wet upon wet slathers, the artist played out an extraordinary engagement both with the immediate materials and with the history of art. By interrupting the aura of the hand-wrought mark, illusionistic space, and pictorial associations, Richter "mak[es] gestures that promise nothing and deliver nothing, yet have the visual and tactile immediacy of those that attempt to do both" (R. Storr, The Cage Paintings, London, 2009, p. 68). Abstraktes Bild (646-6) is among the most vivid of the artist's essays in this genre. Fusing styles and motifs, he asks the fundamental questions of past and current models of painting, mining reality for its promises while dazzling the eye into misapprehension. His works are, in this sense, conjectures: "Abstract pictures are fictive models, because they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can [only] postulate" (G. Richter, "Text for catalogue of documenta 7," Kassel, 1982, in G. Richter, op. cit., p. 121).

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