Gerhard Richter was born to Horst and Hildegard Richter in Dresden on February 9, 1932. Having married the year before, Gerhard was their first child, with a daughter, Gisela, arriving in 1936. Horst Richter, with whom Gerhard did not have a close relationship, was a teacher at a secondary school in Dresden.1 Hildegard was a bookseller and, like her father, a talented pianist. She was passionate about literature, and passed on her enthusiasm and knowledge to the young Gerhard. They were, in many respects, an average middle-class family. In an interview with Robert Storr Richter described his early family life as “simple, orderly, structured – mother playing the piano and the father earning money”.
In 1935, Horst was offered a post at a school in Reichenau, then a part of Saxony, now Bogatynia in Poland. The family duly moved to the town, which was much smaller and less stimulating than Dresden.3 While living there was to prove much safer than being in Dresden when the war began, it perhaps marked the beginning of a gradual deterioration in the relationship between Horst and Hildegard. The strain was increased when Horst was conscripted into the German army. He left to fight first on the eastern front and then on the western front where he was captured by the Allied forces and detained in an American prisoner of war camp until the end of the war. In 1946 he was released and returned to his family, who by now had relocated from Reichenau to the even smaller Waltersdorf, a village on the Czech border.
On his return, Horst’s reception was not as warm as he might have hoped. Commenting on this many years later, Gerhard explained: “He shared most fathers’ fate at the time… Nobody wanted them.” In an interview with Jan Thorn-Prikker in 2004 he added: “[We] were so alienated from him that we didn’t know how to deal with each other.” Although he seemed to have held neutral political opinions, Horst’s former membership of the National Socialist Party – an organization that all teachers had been obliged to join – made it virtually impossible to return to teaching. He worked for a while in a textile mill in nearby Zittau before finding a post as an administrator of a distance learning program for an educational institution in Dresden.
Gerhard’s own memories of his early years are a combination of fondness and frustration, sadness and excitement. While his family left Dresden when Richter was only three years old, he recalls the house in which he was born in Grossenhainer Strasse, and in particular the house of his great-grandmother “not far from the original Circus Sarrasani building, where as a young lad I could see the elephant stalls through the cellar windows. My great-grandmother’s sewing box, made of armadillo skin. A man falling from a ladder – something that, according to my parents, only I had seen”.Little is documented about Gerhard’s memories of Reichenau, though his recollections about his time in Waltersdorf are more vivid, not least because when they moved to the village, he was already more than ten years old. He has been described as “a highly gifted child but notoriously bad in school” with Dietmar Elger noting that “he even brought home poor grades in drawing”. He dropped out of grammar school in Zittau and attended instead a vocational school, where he studied stenography, accounting and Russian. In addition to not enjoying school, he felt he didn’t really belong in Waltersdorf. He recalled, “We had moved to a new village, and automatically I was an outsider. I couldn’t speak the dialect and so on.” Like most boys of his age, he was obliged to join the Pimpfen in 1942, an organization for children that prepared them for the Hitler Youth. Fortunately, he was just a little too young to have been conscripted to the army himself during the last year of the war.
Despite living in the countryside, Gerhard’s experience of the war was nonetheless intense. Apart from economic hardship and the absence of his father for several important years in his development, his family did not escape personal loss, with Hildegard’s two brothers, Rudi and Alfred, both being killed in active service. “It was sad when my mother’s brothers fell in battle. First one, then the other. I’ll never forget how the women screamed.” Hildegard’s sister Marianne also encountered a regrettable end to her life: suffering from mental health problems, as a result of the eugenics policies of the Third Reich she starved to death in a psychiatric clinic.
While spared much of the direct bombing to which nearby Dresden was exposed, the war was very much present in Waltersdorf. Speaking to Jan Thorn-Prikker, Gerhard remembers, “The retreating German soldiers, the convoys, the low-flying Russian planes shooting at refugees, the trenches, the weapons lying around everywhere, artillery, broken down cars. Then the invasions of the Russians […] the ransacking, rapes, a huge camp where us kids sometimes got barley soup.” Gerhard was fascinated by the military, commenting, “When the soldiers came through the village, I went up to them and wanted to join them.” Speaking to Robert Storr, he explained, “When you’re twelve years old you’re too little to understand all that ideological hocus-pocus”. With boyish curiosity and a sense of adventure, he and his friends would play in the woods and trenches, shooting rifles that they had found lying around. “I thought it was great. […] I was fascinated, like all kids, or all boys”. Although he was young, he understood the significance of the war, and in February 1945, recalls the virtual obliteration of Dresden: “In the night, everyone came out into the street in this village 100 kilometers away. Dresden was being bombed, ‘Now, at this moment!'”
The end of World War II in many ways coincided with Gerhard’s transition from childhood to adolescence, and, now under Soviet control following the Potsdam Agreement, it was to be a very different Germany to the one he had been born into.
Gerhard Richter’s work and life has been the subject of numerous publications. The literature ranges from exhibition catalogues and collection catalogues to monographs, films and articles. Richter’s own publications in the form of artist’s books are an important part of his œuvre.
In 1983, Richter resettled from Düsseldorf to Cologne, where he still lives and works today. In 1996, he moved into a studio designed by architect Thiess Marwede.
Richter married Marianne Eufinger in 1957; she gave birth to his first daughter. He married his second wife, the sculptor Isa Genzken, in 1982. Richter had a son and daughter with his third wife, Sabine Moritz after they were married in 1995.
Nearly all of Richter’s work demonstrates both illusionistic space that seems natural and the physical activity and material of painting—as mutual interferences. For Richter, reality is the combination of new attempts to understand—to represent; in his case, to paint—the world surrounding us.
Photo-paintings and the “blur”
Richter created various painting pictures from black-and-white photographs during the 1960s and early 1970s, basing them on a variety of sources: newspapers and books, sometimes incorporating their captions, (as in Helga Matura (1966)); private snapshots; aerial views of towns and mountains, (Cityscape Madrid (1968) and Alps (1968)); seascapes (1969–70); and a large multi-partite work made for the German Pavilion in the 1972 Venice Biennale. For Forty-eight Portraits (1971–2), he chose mainly the faces of composers such as Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius, and of writers such as H. G. Wells and Franz Kafka.
Many of these paintings are made in a multi-step process of representations. He starts with a photograph, which he has found or taken himself, and projects it onto his canvas, where he traces it for exact form. Taking his color palette from the photograph, he paints to replicate the look of the original picture. His hallmark “blur” is achieved sometimes with a light touch of a soft brush, sometimes a hard smear by an aggressive pull with a squeegee.
Richter has stated that the use of photographic imagery as a starting point for his early paintings resulted from an attempt to escape the complicated process of deciding what to paint, along with the critical and theoretical implications accompanying such decisions within the context of a modernist discourse. To achieve this, Richter began amassing photos from magazines, books, etc., many of which became the subject matter of his early photography-based paintings. Thus the Atlas was born: Atlas is an ongoing, encyclopedic work composed of approximately 4,000 photographs, reproductions or cut-out details of photographs and illustrations, grouped together on approximately 600 separate panels. When Atlas was first exhibited in 1972 at the Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst in Utrecht under the title Atlas der Fotos und Skizzen, it included 315 parts. The work has continued to expand, and was exhibited later in full form at the Lenbachhaus in Munich in 1989, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in 1990, and at Dia Art Foundation in New York in 1995.
From around 1964, Richter made a number of portraits of dealers, collectors, artists and others connected with his immediate professional circle. Richter’s two portraits of Betty, his daughter, were made in 1977 and 1988 respectively; the three portraits titled IG were made in 1993 and depict the artist’s second wife, Isa Genzken. Lesende (1994) portrays Sabine Moritz, whom Richter married in 1995, shown absorbed in the pages of a magazine. Many of his realist paintings reflect on the history of National Socialism, creating paintings of family members who had been members, as well as victims of, the Nazi party. From 1966, as well as those given to him by others, Richter began using photographs he had taken as the basis for portraits. In 1975, on the occasion of a show in Düsseldorf, Gilbert & George commissioned Richter to make a portrait of them.
Richter began making prints in 1965. He was most active before 1974, only completing sporadic projects since that time. In the period 1965–74, Richter made most of his prints (more than 100), of the same or similar subjects in his paintings. He has explored a variety of photographic printmaking processes – screenprint, photolithography, and collotype – in search of inexpensive mediums that would lend a “non-art” appearance to his work. He stopped working in print media in 1974, and began painting from photographs he took himself.
While elements of landscape painting appeared initially in Richter’s work early on in his career in 1963, the artist began his independent series of landscapes in 1968 after his first vacation, an excursion that landed him besotted with the terrain of Corsica. Landscapes have since emerged as an independent work group in his oeuvre. According to Dietmar Elger, “Richter’s landscapes are almost invariably understood in terms of the great historical tradition of German Romantic Painting. They are especially compared to the work of Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). … The comparison with Friedrich makes excellent sense. Not only is Friedrich foundational to the very notion of German landscape painting, but each artist spent important years of his life in Dresden. Indeed, several critics have concluded that, despite being separated by more than a century, the two share a similar experience of nature.” Große Teyde-Landschaft (1971) takes its imagery from similar holiday snapshots of the volcanic regions of Tenerife. In 1972 Richter had embarked on a ten-day trip to Greenland, originally having intended to be accompanied by his friend Hanne Darboven, but eventually journeying alone. His intention was to experience and record the desolate arctic landscape. In 1976 four large paintings, each titled Seascape emerged from the Greenland photographs.
In 1982 and 1983, Richter made a series of paintings of Candles and Skulls that relate to a longstanding tradition of still life memento mori painting. Each composition is most commonly based on a photograph taken by Richter in his own studio. Influenced by old master vanitas painters such as Georges de La Tour and Francisco de Zurbarán, the artist began to experiment with arrangements of candles and skulls placed in varying degrees of natural light, sitting atop otherwise barren tables. The Candle paintings coincided with his first large-scale abstract paintings, and represent the complete antithesis to those vast, colorful and playfully meaningless works. Richter has made only 27 of these still lifes. In 1995, the artist marked the 50th anniversary of the allied bombings of his hometown Dresden during the Second World War. His solitary candle was reproduced on a monumental scale and placed overlooking the River Elbe as a symbol of rejuvenation.
In a 1988 series of 15 ambiguous photo paintings entitled October 18, 1977, he depicted four members of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a German left-wing terrorist organization. These paintings were created from black-and-white newspaper and police photos. Three RAF members were found dead in their prison cells on October 18, 1977, and the cause of their deaths was the focus of widespread controversy. In the late 1980s, Richter had begun to collect images of the group which he used as the basis for the 15 paintings exhibited for the first time in Krefeld in 1989. The paintings were based on an official portrait of Ulrike Meinhof during her years as a radical journalist; on photographs of the arrest of Holger Meins; on police shots of Gudrun Ensslin in prison; on Andreas Baader’s bookshelves and the record player to conceal his gun; on the dead figures of Meinhof, Ensslin, and Baader; and on the funeral of Ensslin, Baader, and Jan-Carl Raspe.
Since 1989, Richter has worked on creating new images by dragging wet paint over photographs. The photographs, not all taken by Richter himself, are mostly snapshots of daily life: family vacations, pictures of friends, mountains, buildings and streetscapes.
Richter was flying to New York on September 11, 2001, but due to the 9/11 attacks, including on the World Trade Center, his plane was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A few years later, he made one small painting specifically about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. In September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter, Robert Storr situates Richter’s 2005 painting September within a brand of anti-ideological thought that he finds throughout Richter’s work, he considers how the ubiquitous photographic documentation of the September 11 attacks affects the uniqueness of one’s distinct remembrance of the events, and he offers a valuable comparison to Richter’s October 18, 1977 cycle.
In the 2000s, Richter made a number of works that dealt with scientific phenomena. In 2003, he produced several paintings with the same title: Silicate. Large oil-on-canvas pieces, these show latticed rows of light- and dark-grey blobs whose shapes quasi-repeat as they race across the frame, their angle modulating from painting to painting. They depict a photo, published in the FAZ, of a computer-generated simulacrum of reflections from the silicon dioxide found in insects’ shells.
Coming full-circle from his early Table (1962) in which he cancelled his photorealist image with haptic swirls of grey paint, in 1969, Richter produced the first of a group of grey monochromes that consist exclusively of the textures resulting from different methods of paint application.
In 1976, Richter first gave the title Abstract Painting to one of his works. By presenting a painting without even a few words to name and explain it, he felt he was “letting a thing come, rather than creating it.” In his abstract pictures, Richter builds up cumulative layers of non-representational painting, beginning with brushing big swaths of primary color onto canvas. The paintings evolve in stages, based on his responses to the picture’s progress: the incidental details and patterns that emerge. Throughout his process, Richter uses the same techniques he uses in his representational paintings, blurring and scraping to veil and expose prior layers. From the mid-1980s, Richter began to use a home-made squeegee to rub and scrape the paint that he had applied in large bands across his canvases. In the 1990s the artist began to run his squeegee up and down the canvas in an ordered fashion to produce vertical columns that take on the look of a wall of planks.
Richter’s abstract work is remarkable for the illusion of space that develops, ironically, out of his incidental process: an accumulation of spontaneous, reactive gestures of adding, moving, and subtracting paint. Despite unnatural palettes, spaceless sheets of color, and obvious trails of the artist’s tools, the abstract pictures often act like windows through which we see the landscape outside. As in his representational paintings, there is an equalization of illusion and paint. In those paintings, he reduces worldly images to mere incidents of Art. Similarly, in his abstract pictures, Richter exalts spontaneous, intuitive mark-making to a level of spatial logic and believability.
Firenze continues a cycle of 99 works conceived in the autumn of 1999 and executed in the same year and thereafter. The series of overpainted photographs, or übermalte Photographien, consists of small paintings bearing images of the city of Florence, created by the artist as a tribute to the music of Steve Reich and the work of Contempoartensemble, a Florence-based group of musicians.
After 2000, Richter made a number of works that dealt with scientific phenomena, in particular, with aspects of reality that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In 2006, Richter conceived six paintings as a coherent group under the title Cage, named after the American avant-garde composer John Cage. In May 2002, Richter photographed 216 details of his abstract painting no. 648-2, from 1987. Working on a long table over a period of several weeks, Richter combined these 10 x 15 cm details with 165 texts on the Iraq war, published in the German FAZ newspaper on March 20 and 21. This work was published in 2004 as a book entitled War Cut.
In November 2008, Richter began a series in which he applied ink droplets to wet paper, using alcohol and lacquer to extend and retard the ink’s natural tendency to bloom and creep. The resulting November sheets are regarded as a significant departure from his previous watercolours in that the pervasive soaking of ink into wet paper produced double-sided works. Sometimes the uppermost sheets bled into others, generating a sequentially developing series of images. In a few cases Richter applied lacquer to one side of the sheet, or drew pencil lines across the patches of colour.
Colour chart paintings
As early as 1966, Richter had made paintings based on colour charts, using the rectangles of colour as found objects in an apparently limitless variety of hue; these culminated in 1973–4 in a series of large-format pictures such as 256 Colours. Richter painted three series of Color Chart paintings between 1966 and 1974, each series growing more ambitious in their attempt to create through their purely arbitrary arrangement of colors. The artist began his investigations into the complex permutations of color charts in 1966, with a small painting entitled 10 Colours. The charts provided anonymous and impersonal source material, a way for Richter to disassociate colour from any traditional, descriptive, symbolic or expressive end. When he began to make these paintings, Richter had his friend Blinky Palermo randomly call out colours, which Richter then adopted for his work. Chance thus plays its role in the creation of his first series.
Returning to colour charts in the 1970s, Richter changed his focus from the readymade to the conceptual system, developing mathematical procedures for mixing colours and chance operations for their placement. The range of the colours he employed was determined by a mathematical system for mixing the primary colours in graduated amounts. Each color was then randomly ordered to create the resultant composition and form of the painting. Richter’s second series of Color Charts was begun in 1971 and consisted of only five paintings. In the final series of Color Charts which preoccupied Richter throughout 1973 and 1974, additional elements to this permutational system of colour production were added in the form of mixes of a light grey, a dark gray and later, a green.
Richter’s 4900 Colours from 2007 consisted of bright monochrome squares that have been randomly arranged in a grid pattern to create stunning fields of kaleidoscopic color. It was produced at the same time he developed his design for the south transept window of Cologne Cathedral. 4900 Colours consists of 196 panels in 25 colors that can be reassembled in 11 variations – from a single expansive surface to multiple small-format fields. Richter developed Version II – 49 paintings, each of which measures 97 by 97 centimeters – especially for the Serpentine Gallery.
Richter began to use glass in his work in 1967, when he made Four Panes of Glass. These plain sheets of glass could tilt away from the poles on whicht they were mounted at an angle that changed from one installation to the next. In 1970, he and Blinky Palermo jointly submitted designs for the sports facilities for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. For the front of the arena, they proposed an array of glass windows in twenty-seven different colors; each color would appear fifty times, with the distribution determined randomly. In 1981, for a two-person show with Georg Baselitz in Düsseldorf, Richter produced the first of the monumental transparent mirrors that appear intermittently thereafter in his oeuvre; the mirrors are significantly larger than Richter’s paintings and feature adjustable steel mounts. For pieces such as Mirror Painting (Grey, 735-2) (1991), the mirrors were coloured grey by the pigment attached to the back of the glass. Arranged in two rooms, Richter presented an ensemble of paintings and colored mirrors in a special pavilion designed in collaboration with architect Paul Robbrecht at Documenta 9 in Kassel in 1992.
In 2002, for the Dia Art Foundation, Richter created a glass sculpture in which seven parallel panes of glass refract light and the world beyond, offering altered visions of the exhibition space; Spiegel I (Mirror I) and Spiegel II (Mirror II), a two-part mirror piece from 1989 that measures 7′ tall and 18′ feet long, which alters the boundaries of the environment and again changes one’s visual experience of the gallery; and Kugel (Sphere), 1992, a stainless steel sphere that acts as a mirror, reflecting the space. Since 2002, the artist has created a series of three dimensional glass constructions, such as 6 Standing Glass Panels (2002/2011).
In 2010, the Drawing Center showed Lines which do not exist, a survey of Richter’s drawings from 1966 to 2005, including works made using mechanical intervention such as attaching a pencil to an electric hand drill. It was the first career overview of Richter in the United States since 40 Years of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art in 2002. In a review of Lines which do not exist, R. H. Lossin writes in The Brooklyn Rail: “Viewed as a personal (and possibly professional) deficiency, Richter’s drawing practice consisted of diligently documenting something that didn’t work—namely a hand that couldn’t draw properly. …Richter displaces the concept of the artist’s hand with hard evidence of his own, wobbly, failed, and very material appendage.”
Throughout his career, Richter has mostly declined lucrative licensing deals and private commissions. Measuring 9 by 9 ½ feet and depicting both the Milan Duomo and the square’s 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Domplatz, Mailand [Cathedral Square, Milan] (1968) was a commission from Siemens, and it hung in that company’s offices in Milan from 1968 to 1998. (In 1998, Sotheby’s sold it in London, where it fetched what was then a record price for Richter, $3.6 million). In 1980, Richter and Isa Genzken were commissioned to design the König-Heinrich-Platz underground station in Duisburg; it was only completed in 1992. In 1986, Richter received a commission for two large-scale paintings – Victoria I and Victoria II – from the Victoria insurance company in Düsseldorf. In 1990, along with Sol LeWitt and Oswald Mathias Ungers, he created works for the Bayerische Hypotheken- und Wechselbank in Düsseldorf. In 1998, he installed a wall piece based on the colours of Germany’s flag in the rebuilt Reichstag in Berlin.
Stained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral, 20 metres (66 ft) tall
In 2002, the same year as his MoMA retrospective, Richter was asked to design a stained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral In August 2007, his window was unveiled. It is an 113 square metres (1,220 sq ft) abstract collage of 11,500 pixel-like squares in 72 colors, randomly arranged by computer (with some symmetry), reminiscent of his 1974 painting “4096 colours”. Although the artist waived any fee, the costs of materials and mounting the window came to around €370,000 ($506,000). However the costs were covered by donations from more than 1,000 people. Cardinal Joachim Meisner did not attend the window’s unveiling; he had preferred a figurative representation of 20th century Christian martyrs and said that Richter’s window would fit better in a mosque or other prayer house. A professed atheist with “a strong leaning towards Catholicism”, Richter’s three children with his third wife were baptized in the Cologne Cathedral.
Richter first began exhibiting in Düsseldorf in 1963. Richter had his first gallery solo show in 1964 at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf. Soon after, he had exhibitions in Munich and Berlin and by the early 1970s exhibited frequently throughout Europe and the United States. In 1966, Bruno Bischofberger was the first to show Richter’s works outside Germany. Richter’s first retrospective took place at the Kunsthalle Bremen in 1976 and covered works from 1962 to 1974. A traveling retrospective at Düsseldorf’s Kunsthalle in 1986 was followed in 1991 by a retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London. In 1993 he received a major touring retrospective “Gerhard Richter: Malerei 1962-1993” curated by Kasper König, with a three volume catalogue edited by Benjamin Buchloch. This exhibition containing 130 works carried out over the course of thirty years, was to entirely reinvent Richter’s career.
Richter became known to a U.S. audience in 1990, when the Saint Louis Art Museum circulated Baader-Meinhof (October 18, 1977), a show that that was later seen at the Lannan Foundation in Marina del Rey, California. Richter’s first North American retrospective was in 1998 at the Art Gallery of Ontario and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. In 2002, a 40-year retrospective of Richter’s work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. He has participated in several international art shows, including the Venice Biennale (1972, 1980, 1984, 1997 and 2007), as well as Documenta V (1972), VII (1982), VIII (1987), IX (1992), and X (1997). In 2006, an exhibition at the Getty Center connected the landscapes of Richter to the Romantic pictures of Caspar David Friedrich, showing that both artists “used abstraction, expansiveness, and emptiness to express transcendent emotion through painting.”
The Gerhard Richter Archive was established in cooperation with the artist in 2005 as an institute of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
Solo exhibitions (selection)
Gerhard Richter 4900 Colours: Version II at the Serpentine Gallery, London, United Kingdom. 2008
Gerhard Richter Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London, United Kingdom. 2009
Gerhard Richter: Panorama at the Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom. 2011
Gerhard Richter at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. 2012
Gerhard Richter: Panorama at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany. 2012
Although Richter gained popularity and critical praise throughout his career, his fame burgeoned during his 2005 retrospective exhibition, which declared his place among the most important artists of the 20th century. Today, many call Gerhard Richter the best living painter. In part, this comes from his ability to explore the medium at a time when many were heralding its death. Richter has been the recipient of numerous distinguished awards, including the State Prize of the state North Rhine-Westphalia in 2000; the Wexner Prize, 1998; the Praemium Imperiale, Japan, 1997; the Golden Lion of the 47th Biennale, Venice, 1997; the Wolf Prize in Israel in 1994/5; the Kaiserring Prize der Stadt Goslar, Mönchehaus-Museum für Moderne Kunst, Goslar, Germany, 1988; the Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Vienna, 1985; the Arnold Bode Prize, Kassel, 1981; and the Junger Western Art Prize, Germany, 1961. He was made an honorary citizen of Cologne in April 2007.
Album cover from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation
Among the students who studied with Richter at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf between 1971 and 1994 were Ludger Gerdes, Hans-Jörg Holubitschka, Bernard Lokai, Thomas Schütte, Thomas Struth, Katrin Kneffel, Michael van Ofen, and Richter’s second wife, Isa Genzken. He is known to have influenced Ellsworth Kelly, Christopher Wool and Johan Andersson (artist).
He also served as source of inspiration for writers and musicians. Sonic Youth used a painting of his for the cover art for their album Daydream Nation in 1988. He was a fan of the band and did not charge for the use of his image. The original, over 7 metres (23 ft) square, is now showcased in Sonic Youth’s studio in NYC. Don DeLillo’s short story “Baader-Meinhof” describes an encounter between two strangers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The meeting takes place in the room displaying October 18, 1977 (1988).
Position on the art market
Following an exhibition with Blinky Palermo at Galerie Heiner Friedrich in 1971, Richter’s formal arrangement with the dealer came to an end in 1972. Thereafter Friedrich was only entitled to sell the paintings that he had already obtained contractually from Richter. In the following years, Richter showed with Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf, and Sperone Westwater, New York. Today Richter is represented by Marian Goodman, his primary dealer since 1985.
Today, museums own roughly 38% of Richter’s works, including half of his large abstract paintings.By 2004, Richter’s annual turnover was $120m (£65m). At the same time, his works often appear at auction. According to artnet, an online firm that tracks the art market, $76.9m worth of Richter’s work was sold at auction in 2010. Richter’s high turnover volume reflects his prolificacy as well as his popularity. As of 2012, no fewer than 545 distinct Richter’s works had sold at auctions for more than $100,000. 15 of them had sold for more than $10,000,000 between 2007 and 2012. Richter’s paintings have been flowing steadily out of Germany since the mid-1990s even as certain important German collectors – Frieder Burda, Josef Fröhlich, Georg Böckmann, and Ulrich Ströher – have held on to theirs.
Richter’s candle paintings were the first to command high auction prices. Three months after his MoMA exhibition opened in 2001, Sotheby’s sold his Three Candles (1982) for $5.3 million. In February 2008, the artist’s eldest daughter, Betty, sold her Kerze (1983) for £7,972,500 ($15 million), triple the high estimate, at Sotheby’s in London. His 1982 Kerze (Candle) sold for £10.5 million ($16.5 million) at Christie’s London in October 2011.
In February 2008, Christie’s London set a first record for Richter’s “capitalist realism” pictures from the 1960s by selling the painting Zwei Liebespaare (1966) for £7,300,500 ($14.3 million) to Stephan Schmidheiny. In 2010, the Weserburg Modern Art Museum in Bremen, Germany, decided to sell Richter’s 1966 painting Matrosen (Sailors) in a November auction held by Sotheby’s, where John D. Arnold bought it for $13 million.
Another coveted group of works is the Abstrakte Bilder series, particularly those made after 1988, which are finished with a large squeegee rather than a brush or roller. At Pierre Bergé & Associés in July 2009, Richter’s 1979 oil painting Abstraktes Bild exceeded its estimate, selling for €95,000 ($136,000).Richter’s Abstraktes Bild, of 1990 was made the top price of 7.2 million pounds, or about $11.6 million, at a Sotheby’s sale in February 2011 to a bidder who was said by dealers to be an agent for the New York dealer Larry Gagosian. In November 2011, Sotheby’s sold a group of colorful abstract canvases by Richter, including Abstraktes Bild 849-3, which made a record price for the artist at auction when Lily Safra paid $20.8 million only to donate it to the Israel Museum afterwards. Months later, a record $21.8 million was paid at Christie’s for the 1993 painting Abstraktes Bild 798-3. Abstraktes Bild (809-4), one of the artist’s abstract canvases from 1994, was sold by Eric Clapton at Sotheby’s to a telephone bidder for $34.2 million in late 2012. (It had been estimated to bring $14.1 million to $18.8 million.).
When asked about amounts like that Richter said “It’s just as absurd as the banking crisis. It’s impossible to understand and it’s daft!”.
Portraits, Paul Moorhouse, 2009, 15:46
Gerhard Richter’s Betty, 4:58 on YouTube, Smarthistory
In 2007, Corinna Belz made a short film called Gerhard Richter’s Window where the media-shy artist appeared on camera for the first time in 15 years. In 2011, Corinna Belz’s feature-length documentary entitled Gerhard Richter Painting was released. The film focused almost entirely on the world’s highest paid living artist producing his large-scale abstract squeegee works in his studio.
“One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks this passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is idiocy.” (From Richter, “Notes 1973” in The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 78.)
At a Q&A ahead of his retrospective at the Tate Modern on 4 October 2011, he was asked: “Has the role of artist changed over the years?” Richter replied: “It’s more entertainment now. We entertain people.”