The Gerhard Richter exhibition at Tate Modern has had a tremendous critical reception. We thought we’d find out though what practising artists felt about it, asking a cross-section of abstractcritical’s regular contributors, and others, to give us a quick 150-200 word reaction to the show. Hopefully, too, there’ll be room to post the best of the responses we get from you… This column will grow so keep reading! Meanwhile, first up is artist Lee Triming, also one of our two new Writers-in-Residence from this month. As well as teaching, Lee also writes regularly for Art In America.
Richter is an artist about whom I have increasingly mixed feelings. His 90’s Tate show threw a very long shadow over the British painting of the time, the transparent Richterisms of which ended up reflecting back on his own concerns with hollowness and replication in ways unintentionally and perversely interesting. Looking over the practice of this supposedly protean figure today, what’s most striking is how it actually consists of such a limited number of moves. There are some fantastic paintings in that body of work (his Toilet Paper, from 1965, is still an understated knock-out), but overall his production is repetitive in a way that becomes less and less interesting as his career progresses. He seems, like the similarly once-fascinating Luc Tuymans, to have shifted from painting out of a lively concern with the redundancy of images to painting images that are, in themselves, redundant. The large abstract works have of late become particularly flaccid; watching Richter wielding the squeegee in Corinna Belz’s documentary “Gerhard Richter Painting” is like watching a Beckett character slogging through an endless field of waist-high mud.
(Artist and regular contributor to abstractcritical)
In 1961 Gerhard Richter defected from East to West Germany bringing with him an academic training in ‘socialist realist art’.
Irony, emotional restraint, dark humour, ambivalent relationships with history/ideology and technical ‘mastery’ would have been survival strategies not ‘art poses’.
This perspective casts a strange light on the ‘triumph’ of American painting. Take Noland’s work or the polished edges of Alfred Barr’s streamlined, aerodynamic version of the history of Modern Art for MoMA for instance – they become a little more alien, a little more corporate…..
1965. Maybe Richter cannot take his ‘culture’- high or low- too much for granted? The hypocrisy of ‘Time Zero’ (a typical all-American catch-phrase defining a ‘new beginning’ for a war-torn Germany and Europe) – was quickly unravelling. Europe was entering a renewed period of cultural unrest aggravated by denial of the extent of Nazism’s contamination of Europe’s ‘civil societies’. There was a heightening of terrorist activities, social/generational clashes, the intensification of the Cold War and revelations of the dark-side of U.S foreign policy – Vietnam, Latin America and so it goes on….
It is interesting to think that, while Richter painted ‘Uncle Rudi’, across the Atlantic Ocean (under which US and Soviet submarines were busily playing hide and seek with armed nuclear missiles) Noland was painting ‘Drive’.
(Norfolk-based abstract painter and printmaker)
In some ways Gerhard Richter neutralises processes and ideas of painting (and photography) by covering so many bases, over and over again. His contemporary Sigmar Polke insists that we encounter clashes, discords, harmonies and dramas within a single image. Richter rarely does this. His images, from whatever time, each have a uniformity within themselves that is bleak or beautiful or pleasing or silent or all of those things. But they have no internal dramas and so the attention shifts to ideas generated between paintings. An effect of this (unlike Polke, and Beuys) is to force us to a place where we feel ‘nothing’. This is a radical position, though of course not a new one. It is achieved by both the lack of drama in each image and by playful and cool inconsistency. When Richter asserted ‘I like everything that has no style’ he invited us to fall into the clueless gaps between the paintings. We should not confuse Richter with Guston or other artists famed for their insistent and defiant changes of direction. Rather, Gerhard Richter is a kind of anti-shaman, rejecting Beuys’ total engagement, rejecting Beckett’s proposal- ‘…to find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.’ Richter’s only invitation, in the end, is to a collection of elegant and concise neutralities.
Thank you for your e-mail which I received via Hales Gallery and good luck with your dissertation.
Gerhard Richter is an important and influential artist, although not my favourite in terms of either abstraction or process painting. Perhaps the idea of the Cage tribute paintings is too obvious a link, for me, to the Black Mountain School and a very American idea of Abstract gesture as mystery. I don’t believe Robert Storr when he says Richter is careful not to go for the same evocation of the mysterious as Mark Rothko; rather I think Richter has calculatedly modulated this idea of mystical abstraction for younger generations. I prefer artists such as Raoul de Keyser in terms of their ability to collapse the idea of the abstract sublime in to something small scale and apparently normal. Thomas Nozkowski, an American abstract painter also selected by Robert Storr for his Venice Biennale, is another great example of this approach, an artist who has disentangled himself from the rhetoric of the New York School of abstraction from within it. In short, I am drawn to artists who make work that is very aware of the problems inherent in its position as much as its making. Mary Heilmann still seems to me to be a very limber artist in these terms and there are many artists in my generation and younger who take on the same fluid approach to quotation and variation in their work.
I hope this is of some use, there is also a review I wrote of an exhibition at Mummery Schnelle Gallery about recent British Abstraction on the abstract critical website which you might be interested in. It’s called School Studies and the exhibition was called What if it’s all true, what then? which included great people such as Jon Thompson, Alexis Harding etc.
—– Original Message —–
To: [email protected]
Sent: Thu 22/09/11 3:16 PM
Subject: Fwd: For the attention of Andrew Bick
Mr Andrew Bick
I am a Fine Art Student and I so need help.
I am trying to write my final dissertation on how totally abstract paintings are being interpreted right now and I have chosen to discuss the squeegee abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter because they are so open ended. I am really struggling to find artist’s reactions to these paintings and so as an acknowledged British abstract artist I am contacting you. It would really be valuable to me if you could make some comments on how you perceive and understand his Cage paintings (or any others which really get to you). Or even if you find them incomprehensible that would be useful to know!
What else can I say, you were a student once…………
Good luck with your work