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Ohne Titel

Ohne Titel
signed, dated and inscribed '687-4 Richter 1989' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
44 1/8 x 40 1/4 in. (112.1 x 102.2 cm.)
Painted in 1989
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Paolo Vedovi, Paris/Brussels (acquired from the above).
Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above, 1995).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 26 June 2012, lot 11.
Cingillioglu collection; sale, Christie's, New York, 12 November 2014, lot 5.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
B. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, vol. III, p. 186 (illustrated in color, no. 687-4).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, 1988-1994, Ostfildern, 2011, vol. 4, p. 210, no. 687-4 (illustrated in color).
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Gerhard Richter 1988/89, October-December 1989 (illustrated in color).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Dating from a highpoint in Gerhard Richter’s career, Ohne Titel is a dazzling example of the artist’s "abstract paintings." Richter used these paintings to thoroughly investigate the process of painting, questioning the nature of composition and forging a new path that advanced the conceptual rigor that had been typical of his earlier practice. Painted in 1989, Ohne Titel was exhibited that same year at a major retrospective of the artist’s work at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Richter was invited to produce a series of new work that brought together his past and present practice; the result was a series of magnificent grayscale canvases which combined his earlier love of monochrome with his later practice of continually laying down and then subsequently scraping off layers of paint, resulting in the dynamic painterly surface that we can see in the present example.
To create these dynamic surfaces, Richter puts down layer upon layer of contrasting colored paint. Just as the surface begins to dry, he drags a hard-edged squeegee across the canvas, challenging the primacy of the painted surface and opening up schisms and pools of rich vibrant color. Here, in Ohne Titel, sparks of vibrant red and shocks of electric blue roil up through the earlier layers of dark and silver pigment. From light to dark, and from high-keyed primary colors through to delicate variations of more organic hues, the painting becomes a bejeweled combination of both color, energy and mystery.
This unique approach to painting is Richter’s direct response to the fundamental question about the function of painting in the age of mechanical reproduction. Looking back on the creation of his abstract canvases, Richter stated, "I had the hope, carried by a fresh wind, to make something free, clear, open, crystal, visible, transparent, a utopia" (quoted in R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 305). He embarked on a search for pictorial form that would go beyond what he could already fathom, and therefore beyond any preconceived composition.
“Abstract paintings,” Richter argued, “visualize a reality, which we can neither see nor describe but which we may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality; the unknown, the ungraspable, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted in terms of substitute images like heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can neither be seen nor understood because abstract painting illustrates with the greatest clarity, that is to say, with all the means at the disposal of art, 'nothing'... [in abstract paintings] we allow ourselves to see the un-seeable, that which has never before been seen and indeed is not visible” (quoted in J. Fineberg, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, London, 2000, p. 374).
The resulting effect is exhilarating, the eye reeling from its cavalcade of brilliant, alabaster white and gunmetal gray. Breaking through from beneath this screen are apertures of radiant color, which transcend the great depths of its remarkably rich and thickly laden paint surface. Through each subsequent addition and subtraction of paint, Richter engenders a remarkably modulated canvas, both romantic and elegiac, which denies representation yet invokes illusions from its sublime chaos. This rich texture is translated into the viscous, tactile ripples of white paint, which spread like a glacial moraine across the canvas.
The 1989 exhibition in Rotterdam began with a group of his now iconic Gray paintings from 1966-1976, with subsequent paintings selected and organized around the grayscale, moving from monochromatic gray paintings, through his searing, bold photo-paintings, until his striking October 18, 1977 cycle depicting the deaths of members of the German terrorist group, the Baader Meinhof. The final group of paintings in this exhibition consisted of large-scale virtuosic abstracts of which the present work formed a part. The exhibition focused on tonality, or the extent to which Richter used the gray scale in works of seemingly contrasting subject matter.
Ohne Titel is particularly notable in this regard as it encompasses both the depths of the dark recesses and the brightness of the whites, all with a hint of fiery reds and delicate greens and blues. Evoking the landscapes of the European Romantic artists such as Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner, paintings such as this examine our deep psychological relationship to nature.
The intricacy and delicacy of this particular work shines through the abundant layers of skillfully applied paint to make the surface come alive with both aesthetic and intellectual resonance. Richter's tussles with the formal nature of the differences between abstraction and figuration manifest themselves on the surface of this work with dramatic effect. With his planes of flat color interspersed with streaks of liquid iridescence, the artist teases us, pulling our understanding one way, then the other. This paradox lies at the very heart of Richter's work and makes him undoubtedly one of the most exciting and influential painters working today. In his hands, the medium of paint has been rejuvenated and Richter has taken the lead in ensuring that it remains at the forefront of artistic expression.

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