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


Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
signed and dated 'Richter III.66' (on the reverse); titled 'Säbelantilope' (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
15 5/8 x 19 5/8 in. (39.7 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted in 1966.
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
Private collection, Vienna
Galerie Klewan, Munich
Galerie Folker Skulima, Berlin
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1992
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., XXXVI Biennale di Venezia, 1972, pp. 38 and 47, no. 80-6 (illustrated).
J. Harten, ed., Gerhard Richter: Bilder/Paintings, 1962-1985, Cologne, 1986, pp. 35 and 362, no. 80-6 (illustrated).
B. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: Wekübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, pp. 17 and 151, no. 80-6 (illustrated).
D. Elger, ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, vol. 1 (nos. 1-198), Ostfildern-Ruit, 2011, pp. 191 and 362, no. 80-6 (illustrated in color).
Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Gerhard Richter, March-April 1966.

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Sandra Sublett
Sandra Sublett

Lot Essay

Gerhard Richter has defined the terms of the ongoing dialogue between representational and nonrepresentational art for more than five decades. Säbelantilope, 1965, is among Richter's earliest essays in a form that would propel the artist into the art historical canon of twentieth-century masters. Using snapshots of the real world as the basis for a painted picture, Richter veils the image in a grisaille-like grey-scale monochrome of seeming evanescent atmosphere. Dampening a sharply delineated tonal field of black and white with high-valued grey tones, Richter parallels the random neutrality of the snapshot while animating its sterile surface. At the same time, Richter acknowledges through a parallel chromatic process the photograph's relegation to inevitable anonymity in a culture of spectacle. For the artist, the grey scale "evokes neither feelings nor associations; it is really neither visible [n]or invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible or invisible, in a possibly illusionistic way, like a photograph" (G. Richter, "From a Letter to Edy de Wilde, 23 February 1975," in The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, Cambridge, MA, 1995, p. 82).

The source photograph for Richter's painting, Säbelantilope, is materially relegated to similar neutrality, embedded as it is amidst nearly fifty photographs on panel five of Richter's Atlas, the foundational source material for his practice. A systematic and ongoing documentation consisting of photographs, drawings, proposals and diagrams on over seven hundred panels, the photo of the sable antelope was selected in 1962. Standing in profile, the animal looks toward the camera in supreme nonchalance, its white flank dazzling against a darker background, shadows lengthening in the high sun, thick horizontal fencing punctuates the background. Säbelantilope presents a tableau, an arrangement of elements that in its transformation into painting comes alive: "I do not wish to imitate a photograph; I want to make one...I am making a photo with different means and not pictures which resemble a photograph" (G. Richter, "Interview with Gerhard Richter by Rolf Schön," exh. cat. 36th Venice Biennale, German Pavilion, Essen, Museum Folkwang, 1972, pp. 23-24). Here, the tableau gains poignancy from its tonal range, the white indicating the animal's relative age. Sable antelopes grow to be black, the females at times brown, but only calves are light tan, with white highlighting under the chin and under parts quite vivid against their black legs. The contrasting dark-toned fence behind indicates this animal is restrained, a stark variance with its normal habitat in the savannah woodlands of East Africa. But beyond the ecological or behavioral implications of the subject-which have no relevance to Richter's selection of the photo-the transmutation it undergoes at the hands of the artist renders the image a study in tonal contrasts. A white horizontal ovoid is framed above and below by thick parallel lines of contrasting black, against which the high-value field pulsates in lustrous streaks. A darker tonality conflates the antelope's features into a single rushing blur. A shorter horizontal line in the top right corner supported by a vertical stripe, crosses the double horizontals to join with the front legs of the antelope. The stability of this compositional structure, grounded as it is by strong horizontal and vertical alignments, is undermined here by the surface facture, which thwarts balance as it compresses foreground and background into an opaque, indeterminate spatial depth.

Richter came to using photographs as models serendipitously in 1961 while painting what he termed "gloss enamel" renderings in the style of August Gaul, a realist painter and sculptor. Refusing the elder artist's mimetic mandate, Richter embarked on what he termed the "moronic and inartistic" process of copying from photographs, which he described in his notes the year Säbelantilope was painted: "I paint from photographs. Being painted, they no longer tell of a specific situation and the representation becomes absurd. As a painting, it changes both its meaning and its information content" (G. Richter, in Writings, Interviews & Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 34). The interplay of meanings inhering in a photograph and their transmutation into a painted picture form the crux of Richter's sense of agency. "Do you know what was great? Finding out that a stupid, ridiculous thing like copying a postcard could lead to a picture. And then the freedom to paint whatever you felt like. Stags, aircraft, kings, secretaries. Not having to invent anything any more, forgetting everything you meant by painting--color composition, space--and all the things previously knew and thought. Suddenly none of this was a prior necessity for art" (G. Richter,ibid., pp. 33.).

One must not take Richter literally here. The enthusiasm of discovery and a sense of liberation, of engaging with "anti-art" as he knew it, informs the writing here of the thirty-three year old Richter. Closer to the truth is Matisse's use of photography around 1900--"not to give the stamp of my personal efforts to the results of my work-in the way that a portrait by Raphael is above all a portrait by Raphael" (H. Matisse, "Preface," in Portraits, Monte Carlo, 1954, n.p.). The issue for Matisse, as it was for Richter in the early 1960s, was personal expression--how to remove what Matisse understood to be subjective emotional content: "Photography has really shaken up the imagination, because people have seen things outside of sentiment..." (Ibid). Richter's double remove--from photograph to painting--returns the painted picture to a re-envisioned objective form, a "picture that emerge[s], that grow[s] from the making" (G. Richter, "Letter to Thomas Ammann, February 24, 1973," op. cit., p. 111). In Richter's rendering, then, the pictured antelope becomes slightly unhinged from its moorings; spatial structure is redefined, surface is disturbed. "I find this changing and allowing to flow, relativising, more attractive than fixed form, than set sign," (Ibid.).

Richter acknowledges his debt to European informel, which is characterized by such surface motility to the point of effacing representation. Richer transforms the roiling impasto of the informel surface into a smoothly finished surface blur, creating an ambiguity of vision--a double vision--that loosens the image from its static pose and opens space behind and in front of the picture plane. Blurring also equalizes disparate elements as it animates and unifies the surface. "I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit" (G. Richter, "Notes, 1964-65," in Writings, p. 33). The artist also blurs or smudges in order to elude any identifiable semblance of reality in a manner that holds back meaning. And yet, because the image is in some sense transparent, a past inheres, eliciting a sense of nostalgia, even of sympathy, in the experience of viewing. We are not indifferent.

In a masterful essay of spatial ambiguity, Säbelantilope emphasizes the uneven fluctuations between representation and non-representation, the medial space between illusionary presence and reality, which marks Richter's early mastery of a technique and the disposition of formal relationships that would come define his oeuvre. "I keep on and on painting from photographs because I can't make it out, because the only thing to do with photographs is paint from them. Because it attracts me to be so much at the mercy of the thing, to be so far from mastering itmy pictures have little to do with the original photograph. They are total painting" (G. Richter, ibid., "Notes," 1964-65, pp. 31-33.)

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