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Abstraktes Bild

Abstraktes Bild
signed, inscribed and dated '910-3 Richter 2009' (on the reverse)
oil on Alu-Dibond
33 1/8 x 33 1/8 in. (84.1 x 84.1 cm.)
Painted in 2009.
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
C. Lotz, The Art of Gerhard Richter. Hermeneutics, Images, Meaning, London, 2015, p. 174.
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, no. 910-3 (illustrated).
New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Abstract Paintings, November 2009-January 2010, n.p., no. 47 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

I…see my abstracts as metaphors...[they are] pictures that are about a possibility of coexistence. Looked at in this way, all that I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom.
—Gerhard Richter

A glowing heady golden yellow fills the mysterious terrain of Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (2009). Luminous flickers of orange and white smolder and burn as slivers of aquamarine hint at salvation, an oasis within this blistering, dazzling terra incognita. In the present work, Richter carefully layered colors across the pristine aluminum surface to produce a glowing chromatic intensity. Indeed, Abstraktes Bild seems to capture light itself. Painted in 2009, Abstraktes Bild is a testament to the artist’s experimental and visionary practice: as one of the post-war period’s most important and innovative painters, Richter continues to challenge the boundaries of his medium. His abstractions are often regarded as the pinnacle of his oeuvre, and paintings such as Abstraktes Bild encapsulate his lifelong investigation into the visual and philosophical nature of perception.
To create the Abstrakte Bilder, Richter maneuvers a squeegee across the expanse of the surface to form rifts and fusions that record his movements. After covering a canvas in layers of paint, the artist drags the hard-edge across the picture plane, applying just enough pressure to disrupt the uppermost layer and, in the process, reveal the chromatic strata that lie beneath. The resulting cascades of color attest to Richter’s physically intensive process, a method that hinges between the intentional and the fated, what can be pre-planned and what is simply destiny. “Almost everything you see here is by chance,” he has said. “The moment of chance is very important, but it is guided and used” (G. Richter, “Interview with Anna Tilroe, 1987,” in D. Elger and H. U. Obrist, eds., Gerhard Richter – Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 198). This resulting interplay of technical prowess and spontaneous gesture speaks to Richter’s skillful handling of his materials. “I don’t work at random,” he has said, “but in a more planned way, in the sense that I let a thing happen by chance, then correct it, and so on. The actual work consists in taking what appears, looking at it and then deciding whether it’s acceptable or not” (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. 275).
Until the late 1960s, Richter’s practice was devoted primarily to photorealism, a process for which he would painstakingly recreate photographic images in paint. While Abstraktes Bild may seem a far cry from these early works, his journey towards complete abstraction has its roots in these first painterly reproductions: whether blurring, altering or even obliterating his source, Richter shifts meaning from the image itself to its means of expression both through color and form. As Christian Lotz noted in his assessment of Richter’s esteemed photorealist example Betty from 1988, “the contrast between the dark monochrome background and the vividness and fullness of the jacket colors is heighted as in no other painting by Richter, except in his…red to yellow abstract paintings (CR 910)” (C. Lotz, The Art of Gerhard Richter. Hermeneutics, Images, Meaning, London, 2015, p. 174). In doing so, he depicts the act of representation and the interplay of color rather than documenting an objective reality. Indeed, in many ways the ethos underpinning Richter’s practice can be described as one of action and erasure. While the squeegee deliberately eradicates all signs of the artist’s hand, it also leaves an indexical impression of Richter’s bodily presence and vision.
Even so, Richter still invites the viewer to wring pictorial meaning from his canvases. “We only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us” (G. Richter, “Interview with Gerhard Richter,” in R. Storr, Forty Years of Painting, New York, 2003, p. 304). He has referred to his pictorial fantasies as “fictive models,” which can “make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate” (G. Richter, quoted in Documenta VII, exh. cat., Kassel, 1982, n.p.). While Abstraktes Bild suggests a landscape, Richter cedes any specific identification to the minds of his viewers. His aim is to “to let something come into being rather than to create, that is, no declarations, no constructions, nothing supplied, no ideologies—in this way to achieve something real, richer, more alive, something that is beyond my understanding” (G. Richter, quoted in J. Lloyd, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, exh. cat., Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1988, n. p.).
The intoxicating striations in Abstraktes Bild can be compared to the vivid yellows of Pierre Bonnard’s billowing landscapes or to the clean lines of Barnett Newman. These are paintings that summon the breadth of art history while simultaneously avoiding aesthetic conventions. The painting—an evocation of atmosphere and texture—gives the viewer space to imagine and dream. “I…see my abstracts as metaphors,” Richter has said. They are "pictures that are about a possibility of coexistence. Looked at in this way, all that I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom" (G. Richter, in an interview with B. Buchloh, 1986, reprinted in Gerhard Richter. Writings 1962-93, p. 166).

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