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

Abstraktes Bild (646-4)

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild (646-4)
signed, numbered and dated '646-4 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. 646-4 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Abstraktes Bild (646-4), 1987, presents Richter's work at its most immediate, for the literal impression of the artist's pressure and release of the squeegee leaves an extraordinary degree of pictorial incident, the vertical grid-like articulations of repeated markings tracing the path of Richter's manipulations in vertical rows across the span of the canvas. Paradoxically, a figure to ground relationship arises from a single point to the right of center through a series of curving cascades of excavated paint layers, where the topmost layer of paint is released by the shaving motion of the blade from top downward and the palette knife has scored cavities and canyons of exploding pigment, creating the sculpted geological effect of white-hot lava pouring from fissures into the sea below and exposing bleeding clashes of jewel blues and greens. Jagged edges made by horizontal, vertical, and diagonal strokes, then knifed into slits and crevices create areas of illusionistic space.
While only an associative feature of the present work, mountain-scapes are the subject of a work from 1968, awe-inspiring peaks that are clearly articulated in its drawn version of the same year, Mountains. In Abstraktes Bild, contour lines are almost as apparent as they are in the drawing of two decades earlier, even as here they dissolve in fluoresces of pigment and knifed crevices, teetering between the real and the abstract. The facture of the earlier painting, Himalaja (Himalaya), 1968, foreshadows that of the present work, the first achieved with the traditional brushstrokes that move in painterly imitative gestures of the cuts into rock, the latter with the bold slashes of the mechanized invented tool wielded with a degree of intuitive response to the material. In both works, the artist foregrounds his actions on materials, with tools-the brush and the squeegee-and techniques-photorealism and abstraction-that declare both his resistance and commitment to painting.
In Abstraktes Bild (646-4), the incisions are so visceral that one is tempted to suggest that in the dance between artist and medium, Richter has left evidence of an authorial signature, much as Pollock records his signature in a similar dance with his medium. Yet, Richter engages in a grander, if ironic relationship with the history of modernism: while his movements' traces may quote Pollock's method of creating abstraction, they do not reinvigorate it. For Richter has thrown up impediments to the Abstract Expressionist painters' avowed connection between the nervous system and the hand of the artist via the brush, which came to signify a direct current of expressive emotionality from the artist to the viewer. Richter, instead, suspends this correspondence of gesture and interiority by maintaining a balancing act between how much intention and control he asserts and how much he leaves to chance. Returning to the performance metaphor, Richter's approach can be thought of as akin to improvisation, where certain parameters are set-the paint, the canvas, the implement-and certain actions plotted-the scraping and gouging-but rather than discharging streams of subjectivity onto the canvas, Richter interrupts this dialogic performance with the viewer and questions its efficacy, its truth.

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