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Enduring Threads: The Collection of Jacques and Emy Cohenca


signed, inscribed and dated 'Richter 1984 565-2' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 71 1/8 in. (200 x 180.7 cm.)
Painted in 1984.
Sperone Westwater, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1985
K. Thomas, Zweimal deutsche Kunst nach 1945: 40 Jahre Nähe und Ferne, Cologne, 1985, n.p., no. 31 (illustrated).
Gerhard Richter: Bilder / Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat., Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, pp. 312 and 400, no. 565-2 (illustrated).
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, ed., Gerhard Richter: Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, Bonn, 1993, pp. 91 and 177, no. 565-2 (illustrated).
P. Vogt, History of German Painting in the 20th Century, Shanghai, 2001, no. 49 (illustrated and illustrated on the cover).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 3, 1979-1987, Ostfildern, 2013, p. 429, no. 565-2 (illustrated).
New York, Sperone Westwater, Gerhard Richter, March 1985.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

“When I paint an Abstract Picture…I neither know in advance what it is meant to look like nor, during the painting process, what I am aiming at and what to do about getting there.” - Gerhard Richter

Painted by one of world’s most celebrated living artists, Gerhard Richter’s Spoleto is a sumptuous canvas that serves as testament to his unquenchable thirst for innovation. Executed on an impressive scale, the present work is a vast kaleidoscope of color and mark making that showcases his unique ‘squeegee’ technique, disrupting the previously hallowed status of the painted surface to open up a myriad of conceptual and compositional possibilities. Dazzling fields of emerald green, sapphire blue and ruby red are disrupted by surface interventions as the artist drags various implements across the surface of the paint as it dries. These interruptions first emerged in Richter’s grayscale photo paintings of the 1960s, but abstract canvases, such as the present example, are often regarded as the pinnacle of the artist’s life-long investigation into the visual and philosophical nature of perception and understanding.

At over six feet square, Spoleto envelops the viewer in a rich tapestry of vibrant color. These carefully constructed compositions are the result of a prolonged period of contemplation by the artist. After laying down one area of color, Richter lets the surface begin to dry. As a ‘skin’ forms on the painted surface, the artist will run a hard-edged implement across the surface, opening up the different layers of paint below. Although in control of his implament, there is also a degree of chance as the artist is unable to entirely control the behavior of the paint as he manipulates the surface.

As well as being a conceptual study into the possibilities of paint and its physical properties, we can also see multiple veins of art history running throughout the painting, from nineteenth-century verdant European landscapes to the drama of Russian Suprematism, and from German Expressionism to American Color Field painting, all are visible within one canvas. It is no mistake that Richter’s longstanding interlocutor Benjamin H.D. Buchloh observes, “Gerhard Richter’s art can be seen as an extraordinary succession of painterly strategies” (B.H.D. Buchloh, “Divided Memory and Post-Traditional Identity: Gerhard Richter’s Work of Mourning,” October, Winter 1996, p. 60).

“I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. I blur things so that they do not look artistic or craftsmanlike but technological, smooth and perfect. I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information.” - Gerhard Richter

Richter’s bold traversing marks become horizon lines of sorts, offering perspective in an otherwise volatile field of pigment. It is as if these colors have met for the very first time, combining and re-combining into heretofore unconsidered relationships. Scholar Robert Storr characterizes the artist’s work as a series of compelling contradictions, “Veiled intimacy versus formality of presentation; chromatic austerity versus rich tactility; optical splendor versus physical remoteness” (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting, ex. cat., New York, 2002, p. 17). In Spoleto, these oscillating values come together with force and tenderness alike.

Richter’s abstract paintings mark an important inflection point in the history of post-war and contemporary art. The artist has always oscillated intentionally between abstraction and figuration, expressiveness and photographic precision, thereby forging a path for himself that is outside of conventional art historical categories. Spoleto could certainly be compared to the abstractions of Willem de Kooning or Helen Frankenthaler, but more pertinent might be the lyrical compositions of Wassily Kandinsky, which have a similarly utopian quality to them. Equally interesting might be a comparison to the chance-based collages of Hans Arp. Relatedly, Richter considers his abstractions to be intuitive, “When I paint an Abstract Picture…I neither know in advance what it is meant to look like nor, during the painting process, what I am aiming at and what to do about getting there” (G. Richter, quoted in J. Harten and D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985, Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 89).

Yet he always finds his vision. Richter’s influence, like Spoleto, is grand, and he has been consistently recognized as a force that consistently breathes life into painting. Returning to Storr, he argues, “[Painting] is a medium that has come to depend on Richter’s severe scrutiny—and it has survived and thrived in large measure because of it” (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting, ex. cat., New York, 2002, p. 18). Richter’s own life story is one of survival. Born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, Richter’s youth was marred by war. After attending the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts (his application was initially rejected for being “too bourgeois”) the young Richter became an apprentice to a sign maker. Unsurprisingly, given the scale of paintings like Spoleto, the artist’s early work is populated by wall paintings and murals. In 1961, Richter and his wife escaped to West Germany before the building of the Berlin wall, and he enrolled at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he befriended Sigmar Polke. With Polke, Richter coined the term Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capitalist Realism), a critique of and engagement with the imagery of Western capitalism. From there, Richter’s career expanded into multiple genres and styles, from photorealistic painting to the investigations of abstraction in Spoleto.

Richter has been indispensable to postwar and contemporary art throughout his five-decade career. He has shown at documenta more times than any other artist. Known for his interdisciplinary work in multiple media, Richter even designed a stained-glass window for the Cologne Cathedral in 2007. Retrospectives and solo shows of his work have been exhibited all over the world, most recently at the Met Breuer, New York (2020) and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2022).

Richter has become one of the most important contemporary artists as a result of his unwavering dedication to the myriad possibilities of painting. As Richter advises, “Don’t be easily led astray, and don’t give up believing in art. That’s all” (H.U. Obrist, “Gerhard Richter,” Gagosian Quarterly, Spring 2021, Spoleto, a poetic canvas that becomes a window onto a spectacular world, vibrates with Richter’s passion. Among the very best of his abstract canvases of the 1980s, Spoleto is an inflection point in the history of art that offers a convincing argument for the ongoing relevance of painting. Without ego or pretentiousness, Richter has asserted the value of abstraction and his place within its lineage.

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