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signed and dated ‘DANIEL RICHTER 08’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
84 ¾ x 114 ¼in. (215.3 x 290.2cm.)
Painted in 2008
David Zwirner, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008.
New York, David Zwirner, Daniel Richter: Die Idealisten, 2008.
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Daniel Richter: Lonely Old Slogans, 2016-2017, p. 78 (illustrated in colour, pp. 24-25). This exhibition later travelled to Vienna, Belvedere/21er Haus and London, Camden Arts Centre.
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Lot Essay

Spanning nearly three metres in width, Daniel Richter’s Reflect is a monumental explosion of colour, form and elusive symbolism. Rendered in the glowing, psychedelic palette that came to define the artist’s oeuvre during the 2000s, it presents a sprawling crowd of ghostly spectators, standing in awestruck rapture beneath a brooding, leaden sky. Bright yellow beams illuminate their forms, casting golden light upon the undulating mountain range behind. In the foreground, two figures loom large: one, shrouded in shadow, wields an unidentifiable pole, while the second—bathed in blinding white light like a deity—strums a red guitar. It is a scene caught between worlds, at once a stadium concert, a political rally, a cult gathering or some unknown act of ritualised worship. Richter—who spent his early career designing posters and record sleeves for German punk bands—thrives on such narrative tensions, working in the legacy of artists such as James Ensor, Edvard Munch and George Grosz. Included in the artist’s landmark solo exhibition at the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek in 2016, the painting captures the thrilling blend of fiction, abstraction and historical allusion that characterises his work.

A student of Werner Büttner in the 1990s, and later a studio assistant to Albert Oehlen, Richter is heir to the achievements of the 1980s ‘Junge Wilde’. These artists took a sledgehammer to aesthetic convention, sampling and remixing art-historical genres and championing so-called ‘bad painting’. Richter’s language owes much to these forebears, particularly in its subversive palette and complex blend of abstraction and figuration. At the same time, his works are informed by a number of earlier precedents: from Symbolism and Expressionism to Pierre Bonnard, whom he admired for his response to the advent of photography. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Richter himself began to engage more closely with printed sources, using material drawn from newspapers, history books and pop culture as a loose basis for his works. Frequently painted as though filtered through an X-ray or infra-red lens, his paintings take on a strange, otherworldly quality, recalling events from both past and present while remaining fundamentally divorced from time and place. In this regard, Richter has also drawn inspiration from the work of contemporary artists such as Peter Doig and Neo Rauch, both of whom are similarly interested in how images are transmitted, received and remembered across generations.

The present work’s subject matter is indicative of Richter’s keen affinity with music. Aside from the echoes of punk aesthetics that pervade his work, his paintings connect with music on a deeper level. ‘It’s more like a sound that I think of’, he has explained; ‘… there can be systemic elements, quiet elements, and variations on a theme’ (D. Richter, quoted in Daniel Richter: I Should Have Known Better, press release, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London 2018). Such thinking is evident in the present work, where colour and form morph and mutate like changing chords. A sense of rhythm, too, thrums throughout the work’s structure, as the crowd’s gaze shifts seamlessly from left to right. On a more literal level, Lisa Beisswanger argues that the painting alludes to the idea of music as an instrument of mass control, suggesting that the figures resemble soldiers ‘who carry guitars instead of weapons’ (L. Beisswanger, ‘Join the Joyride—Painting and Music in the Works of Daniel Richter’, Schirn Mag, 20 October 2015). As is typical of Richter’s works, however, any concrete social, political or historical commentary remains tantalisingly out of reach, dissipating amid the frenzied furore of the painting’s surface.

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