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Post Lot Text
The present lot will be included in volume 4 of the forthcoming official Catalogue Raisonné of Gerhard Richter, edited by the Gerhard Richter Archive Dresden, as no. 687-4, to be published in Spring 2015.
In 1989 the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam invited Gerhard Richter to exhibit a series of paintings that would provide a context for his current work in relation to his past production. Richter envisioned what came to be called a “project, broaching a specific theme” a view of his former preoccupations, both abstract and photo-paintings, “built up in blacks and whites” (W. Courwel, Gerhard Richter 1988/1989, exh. cat., Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1989, pp. 5 & 7). Beginning with a group of “grey” paintings from the years 1966-1976, the exhibition was organized around the grey scale, moving from monochromatic grey paintings, through his searing, bold photo-paintings, until his striking October 18, 1977 cycle depicting the deaths of members of the German terrorist Baader Meinhof Group. The final group of paintings in this exhibition consisted of monumentally scaled virtuosic abstracts of which Untitled (687-4) forms a part. The exhibition focused on tonality, or the extent to which Richter used the grey scale in works of seemingly contrasting subject matter.
The coarse impasto and modulated tonalities of white and black vertical striations in Untitled (687-4) are punctuated by sudden revelations of stark aqua and magenta accents, revealing this painting to be among the most striking works created for the Rotterdam exhibition. A particularly evocative example of Richter’s masterful abstractions, Untitled (687-4) suggests natural phenomena, such as landscape, weather and seasons, as well as the more formal concerns of composition, facture and process. “There is no more to say. In my pictures I reduce to that. But ‘reduce’ is the wrong word, because these are not simplifications. I can’t verbalize what I’m working on: to me, it is many-layered by definition; it is what is more important, what is more true” (G. Richter, “Notes, 1989,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961-2007, New York, 2009, p. 212). Yet, Richter’s work is never far from an illusive associative content, and in Untitled (687-4), what seems particularly in evidence is the particulate texture of the surface, a coarse-grained, pitted terrain that splits its surface into shards of chroma, pitted and chapped amid a rugged, nearly savage surface—more glacier wracked by gashes than purely material form.
The sense of a repetition of dynamic incisions arises through the diagonal series of interventions sustained by the surface, thrusts with a sharp tool advancing across the plane. Revealing crevices of bright reds, yellows, aquas, and greens amid the contrasting fluid vertical striations, textural surprises are unmasked. For looking even more closely, shimmering horizontal layering of earthen tones such as one might see built up over millennia in igneous rocks gape from behind its fractured outer layer, as if roiling snow-packed crusts of earth suddenly exposed a molten interior. Allowing textures and forms to be built up or excised organically, that is, according to intuition and physical responses, is key to Richter’s working method. And nowhere is the result of such spontaneous processes more palpable than in the series of actions Richter enacts over the breadth of this canvas. It’s as if Clyfford Still’s jagged rock formations, highly worked with a palette knife, were simultaneously writ large and small in Richter’s painting—for Untitled (687-4) shares similar organic shapes and strata that are seemingly carved from monumental landscapes.
The sheer fertility of Richter’s imagination and the masterful control of his working method are used to document material processes—to enhance in a variety of ways spatial ambiguity, textural variety and surface color and form. In so doing, any representational certainties or expressive content are systematically undermined, almost sacrificed to their physical rendering and material presence. They are “emphatically” painted—space, impasto, and color remain material. They leave traces of the tools by which they were physically rendered visible to the viewer. Titles, when given, sometimes evoke aspects of Richter’s imaginative depictions, whether seasons, places, atmospheres or formal properties. The pitting and streaking of open craters of colors, the illusionistic space created by such layering, and the brightness or densities of the chroma found within remain explicit. The sense that tonal zones within the picture create vertiginous areas of desolation that are suddenly located and brought to life, is evidence of Richter’s mastery of materials. It is easy to lose oneself in surface incident, to submit one’s perceptions to the spatial ambiguity, the riot of textures, the sudden revelations of chroma amid the melting white, grey and black impasto. “Illusion—or rather appearance, semblance—is the theme of my life.... All that is, seems, and is visible to us because we perceive it by the reflected light of semblance. Nothing else is visible. Painting concerns itself, as no other art does, exclusively with semblance.... The painter sees the semblance of things and repeats. That is, without fabricating the things himself, he fabricates their semblance; and, if that no longer recalls any object, this artificially produced semblance functions only because it is scrutinized for likeness to a familiar—that is, object-related semblance” (G. Richter, Ibid., p. 215).
With an authority and virtuosity unmatched by any living painter, Richter investigates the interaction between artist, materials, surface and viewer. In so doing, he creates a tactile and optical immediacy that while delivering non-specific content, fertilizes the imagination of the beholder, inviting one to project onto the surface a dazzling array of associations—from geological to atmospheric, chromatic to painterly. Untitled (687-4) seduces the eye with its fluctuating tonalities, eroded surface and crystalline color formations. Pictorial incident is constant: the eye never rests. Richter’s working method suggests that he assayed Untitled (687-4) in concert with other newly created abstracts for the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen exhibition in 1989, applying layer after layer, carving, building, violating and smearing as he went. This painting appeals to our desire for optical and tactile pleasure; our response in a sense activates its surface, causing the dark chroma to rise up against the lighter. As Richter has remarked of his abstract pictures, [they] “set[…] up a mood, and aesthetic pleasure, too.... Surely you don’t think that a stupid demonstration of brushwork, or of the rhetoric of painting and its elements, could ever achieve anything, say anything, express any longing for lost qualities, for a better world.... I might also call it redemption. Or hope—the hope that I can after all effect something though painting” (G. Richter, “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 1986,” in Ibid., pp. 180-181).