Abstraktes Bild (687-2)
inscribed '"KERZEN"' (on the stretcher); signed twice, numbered twice and dated twice '536 687-2 Richter, 1989 Richter 1983' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
125.4 x 100 cm. (49 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1989
The artist
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Ambassador and Mrs. Edward E. Elson, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, ed., Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 687-2 (illustrated in color)
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4: 1988-1994 (Nos. 652-1 - 805-6), Ostfildern-Ruit, 2015, p. 208, no. 687-2 (illustrated in color)
New York, Dia: Chelsea, Gerhard Richter and Jorge Pardo: Refraction, September 2002-June 2003

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Lot Essay

Dating from the finest period of the Gerhard Richter’s ground-breaking abstract work, Abstraktes Bild (687-2) (1989) gleams with metallic brilliance – a shimmering play of light that probes questions of painterly process and composition with a conceptual daring and innovation typical of the artist. The work is a beautiful example of the artist’s iconic ‘squeegee’ style: using the squeegee to drag paint across the canvas, Richter’s smears of paint mesh and blend as the pigment coalesces, producing a shimmering, iridescent composition that is structured predominantly by the organic arbitrariness of the paint’s movement across the canvas rather than the artist’s totalised, resolved vision. Here Richter explores the vertical axis of the canvas, cascading his greys, silvers and blacks down the surface of the work with an invigorating sense of motion and force; meanwhile, bands of white froth at the top edge before fading and darkening towards the centre, illuminating the work with glints of watery, radiant light. Across this torrent of liquid metallic tones lie roughhewn, tactile patches of colour, standing out in relief against the wash beneath them and generating an immersive sense of pictorial space within the composition.

Having developed his squeegee technique in the middle part of the 1980s, by the end of the decade Richter had begun to master his style. Abstraktes Bild (687-2) also demonstrates the way in which Richter’s several styles interrelate and intersect. Aside from its obvious chromatic similarities with Richter’s earlier grey monochromes, its canvas is a material evidence of Richter’s many stylistic developments as an artist: the current work is the product of two previous stages of overpainting. Beginning life in 1982 as one of the artist’s haunting, photorealistic Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles) paintings, this was then partially painted over in 1983, in one of the artist’s first experiments with the squeegee; the new version joined Richter’s figurative and abstract practices, as the flawless, flat surface and glowing light of the original was disrupted and disfigured by wild strokes of colour. Yet in 1989 Richter radically re-imagined the work again, drenching the canvas in the thick vertical waves of silvery-grey we see today – and though the original painting barely survives on the visible surface of the work today, the work’s relationship with Richter’s candle paintings gives the painting another aspect of its meaning. In this work’s sister painting Abstraktes Bild (687-1), another candle painting has been squeegeed over, but in a deep black that covers the flames of the original, while leaving the majority intact and visible: a kind of conceptual chiaroscuro that shows up the way in which our sense of light and darkness in painting is not only as a physical, visual phenomenon but something we understand symbolically – both in the image of the candle, or the simple presence on the canvas of one shade of jet-black paint. By contrast here, instead of playing off visible symbols of light and darkness, Richter swamps his painting in metallic shades of grey, the colour of his monochromes and the colour that he called ‘the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape’ (G. Richter, “From a letter to Edy de Wilde, 23 February 1975,” Gerhard Richter: Text, Interviews and Letters, London, 2009, p. 92). The symbolic light of the candle now only exists theoretically or historically, buried instead beneath a visible manifestation of the void. Yet despite this, the streaks of white and silver that Richter ingeniously spreads across the canvas introduce a new species of illusionistic, space-creating light where one would least expect it: emanating almost miraculously from an abstract composition in which the painter’s own hand seems to have been erased, real light explodes through the dead symbols and constructs of the artist’s previous work. It is a play of light that defines the genius of Richter’s practice, as conceptually agile as it is visually sumptuous.

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