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German artist Gerhard Richter is considered one of the most significant names in modern art history. Rejecting the strict artistic limits of his time, his paintings span a range of artistic genres, from Realism and Naturalism to Impressionism, Pop Art, Conceptualism and Post-Abstract Expressionism.
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.
There are still plenty of individuals keen to buy Gerhard Richter art, however, and some works have sold for record sums. In 2012, Abstraktes Bild (1994) raised $34 million, a record auction price for a painting sold by a living artist. Richter beat this record in 2013 as Domplatz, Mailand sold for $37.1 million, and again in 2015 when Abstraktes Bild (1986) sold for $44.52 million.
If you are hoping to invest in Gerhard Richter, please get in touch with Maddox Gallery. One of our expert Sotheby’s trained art consultants will be delighted to tell you more about the artist’s fascinating life and extensive portfolio.
Born 1932, Gerhard Richter came of age just after World War II, a tumultuous time in world history. Living under the Nazi regime undoubtedly impacted on his early experiences, as he went through economic hardship, the absence of his father for several years, uncles lost in active service and an aunt killed in a Nazi euthanasia program.
Even after the collapse of Nazi rule, Richter lived for years under the oppressive East German communist regime.
Richter attended the Hochscule für Bildende Kunste in Dresden where he trained under Heinz Lothmar, a former Surrealist and communist who headed the mural painting department.
Upon graduation, Richter sought work painting murals. However, the East German communist regime imposed a Social Realist style on all practicing artists, banning exhibitions and effectively turning art into political propaganda. This limited Richter’s developing style, and once he attracted recognition and a steady income, he took the opportunity to travel outside East Germany.
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, who had censored modern art under claims it was degenerate.
Attending Documenta was 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, Richter fled Dresden for West Berlin. A decade later, in 1972, Gerhard Richter art was exhibited at Documenta for the first time.
Today, Richter lives and works near Cologne, Germany. He was made an honorary citizen in 2007, having lived in the city since the early 1980s, and even designed stained glass windows for Cologne Cathedral.
In the early sixties, Gerhard Richter met and collaborated with artists such as Sigmar Polke, Konrad Fischer-Lueg and Georg Baselitz. They formed the Capitalist Realists, often deriving satirical subject matter from modern print media. Richter eventually emerged from this group to become one of the most sought after contemporary artists in the world.
During this time, he absorbed a range of other influences, from Caspar David Friedrich and Roy Lichtenstein to Art Informel and Fluxus. However, while Richter absorbed ideas from various late 20th-century art movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Minimalism and Conceptualism, he never fully embraced them, remaining sceptical of grand artistic doctrines.
He began to see art as something to be separated from art history, with a focus on the image rather than the reference. In fact, throughout his career, Richter refused to follow any one artistic genre or ideology.
“[By the age of 17] my fundamental aversion to all beliefs and ideologies was fully developed” – Gerhard Richter
In the early 1960s, Gerhard Richter began to create large-scale copies of black-and-white photographs, either clipped from newspapers or shot by the artist himself. However, unlike other artists who employ photographs simply as a reference, Richter treats photographs as if they were reality.
“I was surprised by photography, which we all use so massively everyday. Suddenly, I saw it in a new way, as a picture that offered me a new view, free of all the conventional criteria I had always associated with art. It had no style, no comparison, not judgment. It freed me from personal experience. For the first time, there was nothing to it: it was pure picture. That’s why I wanted to have it, to show it—not to use it as a means of painting, but use painting as a means to photography” – Gerhard Richter
Rendered in a range of greys with a blurred effect, Richter developed the genre of photographic impressionism. He would often blur his subjects to show the impossibility of conveying the full truth, with something always lost in translation. His works explored the power of images and their conflicting nature, as they often prove to be far less objective or unsure in meaning.
“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
In effect, when looking at a blurred but precise photorealist painting by Richter, the viewer is simultaneously seeing but not seeing.
Gerhard Richter art is credited with rejuvenating painting as a medium during a period when many artists favoured performance and ready-made media.
The rigorous ideology of Nazi-occupied Germany and the East German communist regime may have developed a strong dislike in Richter for ideology of any kind, and he moves freely between figurative and abstract artistic styles.
In the mid-1960s, Richter began painting his series “Colour Charts,” like the paint charts found in stores but larger and with colours picked at random. The paintings contained elements of Pop Art and Minimalism, though they were neither, and appeared to comment on the clichés of abstract art.
“I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings” – Gerhard Richter
He then turned to art inspired by Carl Andre, Sol Lewitt, Robert Ryman and Dan Flavin and Conceptualist techniques. His paintings of this period are minimal landscapes and seascapes.
Richter later moved to an impressive photo-based series of figurative works, and later on the series “Abstract Paintings,” yet another stylistic departure. He also exhibited “Atlas,” an ongoing massive inventory of every source used in his paintings, including thousands of photos, postcards and drawings.