“I do not intend to obey any system, any tendency ; I have neither program, nor style, nor claim. I like uncertainty, I like infinity and ongoing insecurity”, wrote Gerhard Richter. The exhibition we can currently see at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris is a retrospective celebration for the 8Oth birthday of this German artist, who is now recognized as one of the major characters in contemporary art.
This exhibition ’Panorama’ at Beaubourg is structured both chronologically and thematically, so as to highlight the tension between figurative and abstract works.
Richter, who always remained classical in its practice of painting, had already investigated new relationships between painting and photography at the beginning of the 1960s. He then set up a new type of abstraction in the early 1970s and reinterpreted in an erudite and new way the genres of art history (i.e. the portrait, the historical painting or the landscape).
Every decade, Richter amazes us not only by his ability to reinvent himself, but also by his capacity to impact the history of painting, each time he experiments a new way in his art.
Richter appeared on the European scene at the beginning of 1960s with works inspired directly by photos which he calls ‘photos-paintings’. These works, painted from his own photographs, or from images chosen in the press, are made with strict expressive neutrality. The final effect comes from the fuzziness.
“I consider myself as the heir of the immense, fantastic and fertile culture of painting which we lost, but of whom we are indebted “. In opposition with the statements of Marcel Duchamp announcing the end of painting as an artistic medium, Richter celebrates on the contrary the evolution of painting. With his large paintings representing landscapes, mountains, clouds and marine, he positions himself as a deserving heir of the German romantic tradition. Here is Richter claiming the painting; I completely agree with this.
In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970’s, Gerhard Richter’s pictorial language evolved towards abstraction. The field of his experiments always remained opened.
Following his non figurative experimentations of the 1970s, the works of the 1980s have a more lyrical composition: the nuances burst, the gesture becomes powerful; spatters lines of brushes and aplats of colors are in confrontation and give life to surprising contrasts onto paintings of often monumental size. The pictorial space is not built to be harmonious, but complex.
The central room of the exhibition presents grey monochromes, and shows works realized with glass panels, reminding us of the first exhibition by Richter at the Pompidou Center, in 1977, at the time of its opening.
Most of the monumental abstract works which Richter realized in the 1980s are diptychs, (fully or partially diptychs). As well, many of his figurative works get organized by pairs or by halving, as a mirror. So, in addition to the reproductions of its own works, exact or slightly modified, Richter has always painted reproductions of masterpieces with always a some sort of respect. Among the genres of the classical paintings revisited by Richter, the landscape has got a more and more important place in his work.
We can also see, in this exhibition, a portrait gallery which consists only of representations of the family of the artist and, rare fact, a self-portrait.
In its most recent works, Richter wonders about the way to preserve the credibility of painting, against recent developments of the digital image. But, anyway, Richter remains attached to painting. As he says ” a lot of people consider that other techniques are more attractive: if you put a screen in a museum, then nobody looks anymore at paintings. But my profession, is painter. It is what I have always been interested in. I am now reaching a certain age, and I come from a particular tradition. Anyway, I can’t do anything else. I remain however convinced that painting is one of the most fundamental human abilities, just like dancing or singing, which have a sense, which remain in us, as something typically human “.
This is how to explicit the style and the ways of Richter, his excellent path. A way and a route which I admire. Just as I completely share his comments on the importance of painting, in the past and today.
If you come to Paris, do not miss this exhibition. And if you had not plan to come, please think it twice ; this is really worth.