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“Pictures are the idea in visual or pictorial form… and the idea has to be legible, both in the individual picture and in the collective context” – Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter is considered to be one of the most important and influential contemporary German artists, best know for his abstract and photo-based ‘blur’ paintings, photographs and glass pieces. His work spans a range of artistic genres from Realism and Naturalism to Impressionism, Pop Art, Conceptualism and Post-Abstract Expressionism but he is perhaps best know for having developed the genre of Photographic Impressionism.Whilst he moves freely between figurative and abstract artistic styles, he has never fully allied himself to any one genre, remaining sceptical of what he sees as grand artistic doctrines. Rather, he views art as something to be separated from art history, with a focus on the image rather than the reference.
Born in Dresden in 1932, Gerhard Richter’s early life was marked by hardship and oppression: first under Nazi rule and later the Russian and East German regimes. His early experiences undoubtedly had a profound effect on him and he has always shied away from ideology of any kind: “[By the age of 17] my fundamental aversion to all beliefs and ideologies was fully developed” (Gerhard Richter).
Upon graduation from the Hochscule für Bildende Kunste in Dresden, Richter sought work painting murals, although his developing style was constrained by the Social-Realism imposed by the Communist regime on all practicing artists, banning exhibitions and effectively turning art into political propaganda.
In 1959, Richter received permission to visit Documenta in Kassel, West Germany. The exhibition held political and cultural significance, aiming to fill the void in German history left after the Nazi occupation and marked a turning point in Richter’s career, introducing him to abstract painting for the first time. In 1961, shortly before the erection of the Berlin Wall, He fled Dresden for West Berlin.
In the early 1960s Richter collaborated with artists such as Sigmar Polke, Konrad Fischer-Lueg and Georg Baselitz, and together they formed the Capitalist Realists, often deriving satirical subject matter from modern print media. During this time, he encountered influences from a range of other late 20th century art movements through artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Informel and Fluxus.
He began to create large-scale copies of black-and-white photographs taken from newspaper clippings or his own snapshots. The pictures were rendered in a range of greys and he would often blur his subjects: ” I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. Perhaps I blur out the excess of unimportant information,” he explains. In effect, when looking at a blurred but precise photorealist painting by Richter, the viewer is simultaneously seeing but not seeing.
In the mid-1960s, Richter began painting his series “Colour Charts,” which contained elements of Pop Art and Minimalism, though they were neither, and appeared to comment on the clichés of abstract art. He then turned to art inspired by Conceptualist techniques, painting minimal landscapes and seascapes. He later moved to an impressive photo-based series of figurative works, and went on to produce the series “Abstract Paintings,” yet another stylistic departure. He also exhibited “Atlas,” a massive inventory of every source used in his paintings, including thousands of photos, postcards and drawings.
Richter’s art is highly collectible; some of his works have sold for record sums. In 2012, ‘Abstraktes Bild’)1994) raised US$34 million, a record auction price at the time for a painting sold by a living artist. Richter beat this record in 2013 as ‘Domplatz, Mailand’ sold for US$37.1 million, and again in 2015 when ‘Abstraktes Bild’ (1986) sold for US$44.52 million.
Gerhard Richter art has been exhibited on a national and international level. He represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1972, and has received many awards throughout his career, as well as featuring as the subject of numerous retrospectives throughout Germany and the US. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London and the Albertina in Vienna, among others.
Richter lives and works near Cologne, Germany.