Painted in 1974, Grau (366/1) is one of the series of completely monochrome grey paintings that mark a crucial turning point in Richter's art. They are the culmination of the artist's experiments with the ultimate "fiction" of both the photographic and painted image and, in the Colour Chart paintings that immediately preceded them, the 'fiction' or lie of pure abstract colour. Richter's "Grey" paintings represent both the final conclusion of this direction of exploration in his painting and also the genesis of a new approach. One that embraced the overt emptiness of painterly gesture and which would, as a result of these extraordinary paintings, immediately afterwards, begin to manifest itself in his first abstract paintings. In this respect, Richter's "Grey" paintings can, like Malevich's "Black Square" be seen as a pictorial nemesis that serves as the corner stone of all his later art.
Grau (366/1) is one of the purest of the series being a monochrome grey painting that demonstrates only the material nature of its own surface. There is no evidence of brushstroke in this work, as there are in some others from this group of paintings, only a mottled textural surface that stresses the plastic quality of the grey paint. "Grey" for Richter, "makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations; it is really neither visible nor invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other colour has, to make 'nothing' visible. To me, grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape. But grey, like formlessness and the rest, can be real only as an idea, and so all I can do is create a colour nuance that means grey but is not it. The painting is then a mixture of grey as a fiction and grey as a visible, designated area of colour." (H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter; The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, pp. 82-83)
Empty, minimal, monochrome, and noncommittal, though also visible negations of what they themselves are, Richter's 'Grey' paintings are works that stand on the edge of painting and at the end of the Modernist tradition. Non-conceptual works they are nevertheless serious in that they are what Richter describes as a "highly scrupulous and cautious attempt to achieve correctness, or rather definitiveness, in painting" and ensure that painting, or at least his painting "pursues a quality which tends towards the valid and the universal." This aim and activity Richter asserts, "seems to me important, in the face of a mindless, proliferating productivity that becomes less and less definitive." (Ibid)