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GERHARD RICHTER (B. 1932)
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GERHARD RICHTER (B. 1932)

Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours)

Details
GERHARD RICHTER (B. 1932)
Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours)
signed, titled, numbered and dated ‘WV-Nr. 138 “15 FARBEN” Richter 1966/1996' (on the reverse); signed ‘Gerhard Richter’ (on a label affixed to the reverse)
enamel paint on canvas
78 ¾ x 51 1/8in. (200 x 130cm.)
Painted in 1966–1996
Provenance
Galerie Friedrich und Dahlem, Munich.
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne.
Onnasch Collection, Berlin.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery/Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, New York.
Literature
Aspekte der 60er Jahre, Aus der Sammlung Reinhard Onnasch, exh. cat., Berlin, Nationalgalerie, 1978 (illustrated, p. 135).
J. Harten (ed.), Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, exh. cat., Dusseldorf, Städtisches Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 366, no. 138 (illustrated, p. 58).
The Image of Abstraction, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988 (illustrated, p. 14).
Kunst- und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/ Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfldern-Ruit 1993, p. 153, no. 138 (illustrated in colour, p. 15).
K. Ichihara, Gerhard Richter The Painting of Schein, Tokyo 1993, no. 138 (illustrated, p. 13).
G. Tosatto, ‘Gerhard Richter: Le sentiment d’avoir approché quelque chose de la réalité des apparences’, in Ninety, no. 29, January 1998 (illustrated, p. 14).
H. Butin, ‘Gerhard Richter und die Refexion der Bilder’, in H. Butin and S. Gronert (eds.), Gerhard Richter. Editionen 1965 – 2004, Catalogue Raisonné, Ostefldern-Ruit 2004 (illustrated in colour, p. 29).
D. Elger (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, vol. I (nos. 1-198), Ostfldern-Ruit 2013, no. 138 (illustrated in colour, p. 289).
Exhibited
Munich, Galerie Friedrich und Dahlem, Gerhard Richter, Farbtafeln, 1966.
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Junge deutsche Künstler. 14 x 14 – Leben im Museum, 1968.
New York, Barbara Gladstone Gallery/Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, Gerhard Richter, Paintings 1964–1974, 1986 (illustrated in colour, unpaged)
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Annemijn van Grimbergen

Lot Essay

‘Richter walked into the Düsseldorf paint store Sonnenherzog, where he normally bought his supplies. He had passed the racks of color charts dozens of times, but this time they caught his eye – all those colorful scientifically formulated and organized to capture the full chromatic spectrum. The charts had no message, no agenda; but they were vivid and they instantly inspired him’ (D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. 148).

‘The charts provided an answer to a question that Richter already had in mind: not only how to dissociate color from its traditional descriptive, symbolic, or expressive ends, but also how to avoid the dogma that surrounded geometric abstraction’ (A. Temkin, Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, p. 90).

Originating in the very first series of colour chart from 1966 and the fifth in sequence, Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours) (138) stands two metres tall, human height, with its fifteen discrete blocks of colour, creating an extraordinary chromatic experience. This series was conceived for his second exhibition at Galerie Friedrich & Dahlem, Munich in 1966, entitled Gerhard Richter – Farbtafeln (Colour Charts), which consisted entirely of Colour Charts. The work was later exhibited in the now legendary Young German Artists: 14 x 14 – Living in the Museum,exhibition at Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, in 1968. Soon after, the work was acquired by Reinhard Onnash. Over a white background, the fifteen unique blocks of colour are executed in enamel paint which impacts a glossy sheen that makes them hover in front of the eyes, creating an optical illusion of black spots between the colour blocks. Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colors) brilliantly encapsulates the formal and conceptual themes that Gerhard Richter was investigating at the time. The inception of the series has been made the stuff of legend in Dietmar Elger’s biography of the artist: ‘Richter walked into the Düsseldorf paint store Sonnenherzog, where he normally bought his supplies. He had passed the racks of color charts dozens of times, but this time they caught his eye – all those colourful scientifically formulated and organized to capture the full chromatic spectrum. The charts had no message, no agenda; but they were vivid and they instantly inspired him’ (D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. 148). This inspiration resulted in the Colour Chart series, his first sustained exploration of the role of colour in painting, and what proved to be one of the most seminal bodies of work in his career. Other examples from this early series of Colour Charts from 1966 are held in collections of the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen, Dusseldorf. Exhibited the same year as its execution Fünfzehn Farben was shown in the artist’s solo show at Galerie Friedrich und Dahlem, Munich.

The creation of the first Colour Chart paintings precipitated an intense period of experimentation, generally recognised as one of the most fruitful in Richter’s oeuvre. Created at a time when Richter was thinking of Duchamp, the series was conceived directly after Richter painted Ema (Nude on a Staircase), 1966, Museum Lugwig, Cologne, as a response to Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase No.2, 1912, which purported the limitations of painting. Continuing to comment on Duchamp’s legacy, just as the origins of Duchamp’s Apolinère Enameled, 1916-1917 was a modified readymade Sapolin Enamel paint advertisement, Richter’s Colour Charts are clearly a nod to Duchamp in the appropriation of colour paint samples. As such, Colour Charts represent a conceptual turn in Richter’s practice. Turning to the cool, colourful geometrical arrangements of colours was in many ways a sharp departure from the black and white photo-realist paintings that Richter had focused on in the early 60s. Indeed, in many ways, Richter’s Colour Charts foreshadow his engagement with pure, arresting combinations of colour that was to come with his renowned Abstraktes Bild Paintings of the 1970s onwards.

Around this time in 1966, , Richter had begun to develop other models for the examination of visual perception alongside the photo-realist paintings: the slightly abstracted Cityscapes and Mountainscapes, the Panes of Glass, the Mirrors, the Grey paintings and indeed the Colour Charts all represented, in their different ways, direct examinations of the mechanics of painting. From the initial Pop-influenced development of the Photo-realist paintings into otherwise unaltered, enlarged copies of paint sample cards, Richter began to remove the representational responsibilities of colour and instead began to investigate the relative roles of each and every colour. Starting with this first series of Colour Charts, Richter increasingly used colour without mediation, celebrating its autonomy and dissociating it from its traditional descriptive, symbolic and expressive tasks. As Ann Temkin has noted, ‘The charts provided an answer to a question that Richter already had in mind: not only how to dissociate color from its traditional descriptive, symbolic, or expressive ends, but also how to avoid the dogma that surrounded geometric abstraction’ (A. Temkin, Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, p. 90).

In his Colour Charts, Richter experimented with a variety of formats for both the colour units and the overall paintings. His preparatory sketches for his 1966 series reveal his meticulous planning, whereby he chose specific colour combinations, and carefully removed the names of the colours as well as the paint manufacturers. And yet, the colour distribution into autonomous units maintain a distinctly arbitrary, anti-compositional feeling to it. Looking at these preparatory sketches, it is clear that proportion and scale were also fundamental concerns for Richter, evidenced by his placement of a human figure alongside his Colour Chart sketches. Colours are arranged as autonomous units, with subtle traces of Richter’s brushwork are still visible in the shiny enamel paint. Indeed it was not just what was on the canvas that concerned Richter, but how the colour and form reacted and interacted with its environment and the viewer. Although the cool, industrially-infected appearance of Fünfzehn Farben might seem to relate it to the new currents of Minimalist art, or to Ellsworth Kelly’s Colours for a Large Wall of the early 50s (which he claims not to have known at the time), Richter’s investigation of colour represent an independent and inventive, although highly complementary, exploration of the resonance of found colour and non-hierarchical compositional structures.

Working closely alongside friends such as Sigmar Polke and Blinky Palermo, whom he met while attending art school in Düsseldorf, together, they perused department stores and other shops in search of new, non-art, materials with which to experiment. Such shops were embodiments of the new post-war prosperity in West Germany, a far cry from East Germany, which Richter abandoned in 1961, shortly before the Berlin Wall was erected. A group of ‘likeminded painters as Richter described his relationship with Polke at that time, together staged action/exhibitions and wrote anti-historical/anti-ideological texts for their joint exhibition in 1966. They operated under the moniker, “Capital Realists,” a reference both to the East German Social Realist art movement and Pop Art in America, while critiquing West German consumerism in a burst of youthful anarchy (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger & H.U. Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 537). The furnishings and supplies they offered for a broad middle-class audience the opportunity to transform its environment, customizing their surroundings and possessions in response to their own desires. While Richter found himself drawn to the paint samples available in such shops, Polke and Palermo chose to experiment with ready-made textiles. Polke used inexpensive printed Art Decostyle fabrics as basis for some of his paintings, and Palermo stitched together coloured bolts of fabric to create abstract fields of colour.

With their conception rooted in his everyday existence, Richter’s Colour Charts are ready-made abstract paintings, offer in a witty retort to Pop. Indeed, Richter has described his series as primarily a response to Pop and to Warhol above all. Speaking to Robert Storr, Richter explained of his practice, ‘for me it was obvious that I had to wipe out the details. I was happy to have a method that was rather mechanical. In that regard I owe something to Warhol. He legitimized the mechanical. He showed me how it is done. It is a normal state of working, to eliminate things. But Warhol showed me this modern way of letting details disappear, or at least he validated its possibilities’ (G. Richter, quoted in ‘Interview with Gerhard Richter’, in R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting, New York 2003, p. 169). While the Colour Charts could certainly be read as magnifications of their source on a monumental scale, akin to the enlarging of everyday media imagery undertaken by Warhol and Lichtenstein, his choice to do away with the indexical characteristics of these objects completely detaches them from their humble origins.

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