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Abstraktes Bild

Abstraktes Bild
signed, inscribed and dated '842-2 Richter 1997' (on the reverse)
oil on Alucobond
39 3/8 x 35 1/2 in. (100 x 90.2 cm.)
Painted in 1997
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Edwin C. Cohen and Victoria Shaw (acquired from the above); sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 2008, lot 73.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
A. Kasper, Gerhard Richter: Maleria als Thema der Malerei, Berlin, 2003, pp. 51-52 (illustrated in color, no. 20).
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2005, no. 842-2 (illustrated in color, p. 278).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 5: 1994-2006, Berlin, 2019 (illustrated in color, p. 232, no. 842-2).
La Biennale di Venezia, XLVII Esposizione Internationale d'Arte, Future Present Past, June-November 1997 (illustrated in color, p. 532).
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: New Paintings, September-October 1998, no. 842-2 (illustrated in color, pp. 41 and 97).
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Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

One of the most influential artists of the past fifty years, Gerhard Richter is celebrated for both the breadth of his output and the studied experimentation of his practice. Working in large series that hinge upon a driving theme, he has painted from photographs, explored grids of carefully applied color, and embraced the chance of fate in his large scale abstractions. Abstraktes Bild is a stunning example of his much-lauded series of the same name, and employs an innovative technique that has allowed the painter to precisely control his working environment while also permitting the oil paint to mix, flow, and meld through many layers of myriad hues. This particular example was also one of a number of works shown at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997, the same year that Richter was awarded the most prestigious honor for that exhibition, the Golden Lion. “With abstract painting,” he has intoned, “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’ … we allow ourselves to see the unseeable, that which has never before been seen and indeed is not visible” (G. Richter quoted in Gerhard Richter: Paintings, Minnesota 1988, p. 107). With works such as this, Richter continuously probes the very basis of painting itself in order to more fully understand and illuminate its furthest reaches.

Abstraktes Bild is a sumptuous canvas that perfectly typifies the nuances and power of Richter’s methods. Observing the surface, one notes that the lower two-thirds are dominated by hues of deep red while the upper portion is dominated by a rich navy blue. However, these two areas are far from pure, and they mix with each other readily to create pools and streaks of purple that blend and merge together. The viewer is intimately aware of the artist’s process as ghostly vertical lines indicate places where the large smearing implement rested briefly on its journeys back and forth across the work. As he once described, "It is a good technique for switching off thinking consciously, I can't calculate the result. But subconsciously, I can sense it. This is a nice 'between' state” (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 251). Beneath the upper layers of color, one notices yellow, green, pink, and white that burn brightly from under the darker tones on top. At times, the squeegee catches the oil paint and strips away the overriding surface to reveal vibrant voids that offer up the underpainting like a glowing ember. Richter embraces each peel, smear, and blur and celebrates their creation with fervor.

In 1980, Richter completed his first abstract painting that made full use of the large squeegee process that would become a signature tool of his later abstracts. Using the tool as a means to introduce chance encounters between layers of applied media, the artist pushed and pulled it across the work’s surface in an experimental effort that he devised to detach himself from the piece’s end result. He noted that these initial works in the 1980s and 90s “allowed me to do what I had never let myself do: put something down at random. And then, of course, I realized that it never can be random. It was all a way of opening a door for me. If I don't know what's coming—that is, if I have no hard-and-fast image, as I have with a photographic original—then arbitrary choice and chance play an important part” (G. Richter, quoted in Gerhard Richter: Text, London, 2009, p. 256). As new layers receded and were revealed with each pass of the squeegee on the aluminum surface, a tantalizing interplay of color and automatic form were realized.

Much of Richter’s work revolves around an intense focus on the process and fundamentals of painting. Even his photograph works are purposefully blurred so that one must reckon with the painted surface while comparing them directly to their source material. Works like Abstraktes Bild brought this career-long investigation into new territory, and allowed the artist to work up from nothing into a purely abstract composition. “I want to end up with a picture that I haven’t planned,” Richter has mused. “This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture. Each picture has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic: it has to emerge as if inevitably” (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 312). For an artist so intensely interested in specific subjects and ways of working, creating abstracts is a logical counterpoint. The fact that Richter creates each as a part of a discrete series rather than as an emotional evolution from past work until the present highlights his phenomenal skill and ongoing artistic fortitude.

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