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GERHARD RICHTER (B. 1932)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
GERHARD RICHTER (B. 1932)

Spiegel, grau (Mirror, Grey)

Details
GERHARD RICHTER (B. 1932)
Spiegel, grau (Mirror, Grey)
signed, titled, dated and numbered ‘GRAU 739-3 Richter, 1991’ (on the reverse)
colour-coated glass
39 3/8 x 43 ¼in. (100 x 110cm.)
Executed in 1991
Provenance
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Private Collection, USA.
Literature
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, p. 191, no. 739-3 (illustrated in colour, p. 129).
Exhibited
Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Voici: 100 ans d'art contemporain, 2000-2001, p. 316 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 300).
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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.
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Annemijn van Grimbergen

Lot Essay

‘[The grey mirrors] produced in 1991 represent a high point... the most radical formulation of Richter’s concept of painting. It was exactly ten years earlier that Richter had introduced the first mirror into his work. In my opinion, the colorless mirrors do not go as far as the colored ones: they mirror the world, as paintings are traditionally supposed to, but they do not – like the colored ones – affirm their very own quality as a medium’ (R. Spieler, ‘Without Color’, in Gerhard Richter: Ohne Farbe, Without Color, exh. cat., Museum Franz Gertsch, Ostfldern-Ruit, 2005, p. 19).

Reflecting all and interpreting nothing, Gerhard Richter’s Spiegel, grau (Mirror, Grey), 1991, offers the viewer a version of their own reality, experienced through a monochromatic expanse of grey. Richter has taken great care to execute his mirror on a scale which encourages our engagement with the work: as we walk around the work, moving forward and backward, the image offered to us changes even as the proportions and colour tone of Spiegel, grau remain the same. Conveying at once unfathomable depth and undeniable fatness, the smooth painted glass surface engenders unpredictable optical effects, goading the eye into a sense of false depth and tangibility. Conceived as a painted pane of glass, Spiegel, grau and its counterparts exist ‘somewhere in-between, neither a real mirror nor a monochrome painting. That’s what I like about them’ (G. Richter, quoted in ‘Interview with Jonas Storsve, 1991’, in D. Elger and H. Ulrich Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 272). In these mirrored paintings on glass, which Obrist views as ‘a metaphor for [Richter’s] work as a whole’, Richter further expands his investigations on the relationship between reality and representation’ (H. Ulrich Obrist, ‘Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, 1993’, in Gerhard Richter: the Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 273).

The Mirrors, especially those with coloured glass such as the present work, act as the artist’s own meditations on the constructed reality of pictorial space. In its very exacting scale that is proportionally relative to the viewer, Spiegel, grau builds on the minimal and conceptual tendencies in the artist’s practice, which first came to the fore in the 1960s with works such as Vier Glasscheiben (Four Glass Panes), 1967, the Colour Charts, the curtains, and the grey abstracts amongst others. As Birgit Pelzer espouses, ‘whether it is the paintings made from photos, the Color Charts, the Grey Monochromes, the windows and mirrors, or the abstract paintings, his activity asserts a single subjective position; it results from a single, decisive passion, a single, directed desire: ‘to explore what painting is still able and permitted to do’ (B. Pelzer, ‘The Tragic Desire, 1993’, in B.H.D. Buchloh (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Cambridge 2009, p. 62).

Recalling Michelangelo Pistoletto’s works begun in 1961 of figures on mirrored surfaces, in Richter’s Spiegel, grau, the artist takes these concepts of reality and representation one step further by removing the depictive element. By offering the viewer his own refection, or indeed own reality of standing in front of a mirror, Richter creates a visual trap for the viewer, a ‘polemic devaluing of all other pictures; [a] provocation of the viewer, who sees himself instead of a picture’ (R. Storr (ed.), Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 49). The problem is furthered in that the viewer is in a position to recompose the picture by moving or by shifting the focus of his or her eyes. And yet the presence of the grey monochrome offers a reality that is not reflective of the viewer’s, a ‘Neither/Nor’ as Richter calls it, which is why he found the medium so captivating. Indeed the grey monochromatic surface of Spiegel, grau, when coupled with the reflective surface of glass, calls into question ‘the view that every picture has space and significance and is an appearance and an illusion, however radical it may be, right down to the Modernist goal of the fat surface’ (G. Richter, quoted in ‘Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, 1993’, in Gerhard Richter: the Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 273). In this way, Richter draws attention to the discrepancy between what one sees first-hand and what happens to that image when it is recreated pictorially. ‘I don’t mistrust reality, of which I know next to nothing’ Richter explains, ‘I mistrust the picture of reality conveyed to us by our senses, which is imperfect and circumscribed. Our eyes have evolved for survival purposes. The fact that they can also see the stars is pure accident’ (G. Richter, quoted in ‘Interview with Rolf Schön, 1972’, in Gerhard Richter: the Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 73). As such, this highly reflective monochromatic glass pane intensifies Richter’s questions surrounding reality and its representation, as the spectators’ movement alone, their refection and their environment become the ‘marks’, however temporary and indeed temporal, within the mirror’s surface.

Richter first conceived his painted glass mirrors in 1981, marking an important step forward in Richter’s post-modern practice. The first two of these glass paintings were large examples that the artist exhibited alongside his other paintings. Two smaller versions followed that same year, and one further iteration was conceived in 1986. ‘What attracted me about my mirrors was the idea of having nothing manipulated in them’, Richter explained in 1993, ‘A piece of bought mirror. Just hung there, without any addition, to operate immediately and directly’ (G. Richter, quoted in ‘Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, 1993’, in Gerhard Richter: the Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 272). Richter first became interested in mirrors and glass in the late 1960s when his art began to experiment widely with the different languages of painting in response to the fertile artistic milieu in Europe and the conceptual and minimal impetus of artists such as Carl Andre, Hanne Darboven, Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra showing in Düsseldorf at the time. In these revolutionary years, Richter experimented widely, depicting colour charts, townscapes, seascapes and Alpine scenes, pivoting between abstraction and figuration. In all of these works, Richter was playing with perception, optical effect and the very nature of objective depiction versus illusion. A precursor to Richter’s painted glass mirrors is Vier Glasscheiben (Four Glass Panes), 1967. The freestanding construction assembled of scaled panes of glass acts like a photograph, illuminating the construction of artificial perspective and the fallacy bound up with representation. As Richter himself described, the work permits us to ‘see everything and grasp nothing’, a tendency which was reinforced when he began his first grey monochromes a few years later in 1970 (R. Nasgaard, ‘Gerhard Richter’, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1988, p. 107). Richter’s painted glass mirrors bring together these separate investigative threads found in his glass panes and grey monochromes which probed the limits of reality and representation.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Richter engaged with the concepts offered in his Mirrors in earnest, producing numerous mirrors made of colour-coated glass. Critic Reinhard Spieler noted that ‘[the grey mirrors] produced in 1991 represent a high point of indifference and the most radical formulation of Richter’s concept of painting. It was exactly ten years earlier that Richter had introduced the first mirror into his work. In my opinion, the colorless mirrors do not go as far as the colored ones: they mirror the world, as paintings are traditionally supposed to, but they do not – like the colored ones – affirm their very own quality as a medium’ (R. Spieler, ‘Without Color’, in Gerhard Richter: Ohne Farbe, Without Color, exh. cat., Museum Franz Gertsch, Ostfldern-Ruit, 2005, p. 19). These preoccupations culminated in the monumental installation, Acht Grau (Eight Grey), 2002, for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin and Six Grey Mirrors, 2003, for the Dia Art Foundation in Beacon, New York. In 2003 he also created three monumental multipanel installations with eight identical grey mirrors each, at the Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach.

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