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£500,000 - 700,000 ‡ ♠
sold for £405,000
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Private Collection, United States
Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Phillips, New York, 14 May 2015, lot 48
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Paintings from 2003-2005, 17 November 2005 – 14 January 2006, p. 37 (illustrated)
A. Zweite, Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné for the Paintings 1993-2004, Düsseldorf/New York, 2005, no. 883-4 (illustrated)
A titan of twentieth century art, Gerhard Richter’s reputation as a master of abstraction is conveyed through the exquisitely rendered steely surface of Grau (Grey). Rejecting a dogmatic view of the world in black and white, Richter instead explores subtle shades of velvety grey in his 2003 canvas. Created using his iconic squeegee technique, Grau is exemplary of Richter’s exploration of grey as a platform for visual mediation. First experimenting with abstraction after the presentation of his renowned figurative series, 48 Portraits at the 1972 Venice Biennale, the present work provides a reflective microcosm, whereby the viewer’s eye is invited to explore the tonal variations of Richter’s slate-coloured work. The canvas’s deeply textured surface with its amalgamation of paint applied in a gestural chaos of directions demonstrates Richter’s artistic maturity in the adroit painterly finesse in Grau.
From the smoky canvas, wisps of tone coalesce before the viewer’s eyes. Through the complex picture plane, Richter’s eternal return to the question of 'what painting still could and should do' is evident (Gerhard Richter, quoted in Hans-Ulrich Obrist, ed., Gerhard Richter, Text: Schriften und Interviews, Frankfurt, 1993, p. 106). Through the painterly use of light, Richter presents a beam of optimism. For, as Richter has stated, sustaining faith in art is one of the 'highest forms of hope' (Gerhard Richter, quoted in Hans-Ulrich Obrist, ed., Gerhard Richter, Text: Schriften und Interviews, Frankfurt, 1993, p. 93). Reflecting on his initial experimentations with a grey palette, Richter states: 'When I first painted a number of canvasses in grey all over, I did so because I did not know what to paint or what there might be to paint: so wretched a start could lead to nothing meaningful. As time went on, however, I observed differences of quality among the grey surfaces - and also that these betrayed nothing of the destructive motivation that lay behind them. The pictures began to teach me. By generalizing a personal dilemma, they resolved it. Destitution became a constructive statement; it became relative perfection, beauty and therefore painting' (Gerhard Richter in a letter to Edy de Wilde, 23 February 1975, in Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 91).
Illuminating the left of the canvas in Grau, Richter applies a lighter shade, these brighter brushstrokes catching the viewer’s eye, like a glint on metallic sheen. As if crafted from metal, Grau continues the dialogue with Richter’s earlier Sheet Metal paintings, such as his 1988 canvas Tin (Blech). Expertly traversing the natural and man-made in the present work, Richter’s use of light conveys both the properties of steel as well as the sunlight breaking through after a terrific storm. In this interplay of light and shade, Richter creates the high drama of an inky sky, the chiaroscuro coalescing to create a deeply evocative work, reminiscent of his 1969 seascape, Seestück (Welle).
Through Richter’s experimentation with abstraction he both elevates and reduces the mark of the painter’s hand, toying with a symbiosis between the medium of painting and the photographic process, as well as exploring the tension between collective and personal memory. Richter’s blurred surface greyscale palette in Grau evokes his body of nostalgic black and white painterly family photographs; Richter’s blurring technique in these works conveys the artist’s study into the transitory nature of memory. Richter’s signature blurred impression is created through the continuous scraping away of paint, in concurrence with the application of new layers. The thickly textured surface of the present work draws a veil over the work, which prompts the viewer to look deeper into Richter’s abstract realm. Furthermore, Grau formally echoes the artist’s celebrated Vorhang works, which recurrently feature in Richter’s oeuvre. A potent symbol of fleeting uncertainty and intrigue, Richter’s Vorhang works illustrate the artists concern with themes of ambiguity and revelation. While thematically encompassing notions of fleeting memory, the viewer is forced to confront the screens that hide unpleasant aspects of national history and our own personal experiences, while noting the degradation of memory and its limitations. Richter’s stylised blurring acts as a shroud, encouraging viewers to acknowledge the importance of addressing the past, while concurrently accepting the limits of clarity within the human capacity for remembering.
Showcasing the colour grey, which teeters on the edge of the colour spectrum before succumbing into blackness, Grau is monumental in its dramatic tension, exploring the profound energy which courses through a colour in flux between sublime white and the dark of the abyss. Richter was one of the first German painters to attempt to contend with the horrors of Germany’s National Socialist history and in his work he strives to reinvigorate the history painting. Grau is emotive in execution, establishing a dialogue with the viewer that creates emotional space for us to grapple with the violent aspects of the human condition. Richter also deals with the more recent past, as exemplified in his 2005 history painting September, in which the events of September 11, 2001 are re-excavated with a devastatingly thought-provoking profundity. Richter visually captures the impossibility of voicing some of the most unsettling sights imprinted on the world’s recent memory. Channelling the chilling images of United Airlines Flight 175 impacting the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, the present work embodies a sombre sense of the enormity of the event, evoking existential numbness and sadness. Described by critic Bryan Appleyard for The Sunday Times as ‘the closest you will get to a great 9/11 work’, Appleyard continues that 'It reclaims the day, leaving it exactly where it was, exactly when it happened' (Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times, Culture, 28 August 2011, p.11).
Rejecting figuration, Richter’s Grau invites the viewer to contemplate the entirety of the work equally; the present work is a unified whole, reflecting the all-encompassing scope of Richter’s vision and his desire to address a multitude of artistic concerns. Grau obliterates preconceived notions of grey as a neutral colour while retaining its association with indeterminacy, forcing a revaluation of colour associations. Richter’s canvas hovers between the borders of ambiguity, destroying the clarity of figuration in favour of hazy indeterminacy, forcing the spectator to peel back an abstract curtain of obscurity.
German • 1932
Powerhouse painter Gerhard Richter has been a key player in defining the formal and ideological agenda for painting in contemporary art. His instantaneously recognizable canvases literally and figuratively blur the lines of representation and abstraction. Uninterested in classification, Richter skates between unorthodoxy and realism, much to the delight of institutions and the market alike.
Richter's color palette of potent hues is all substance and "no style," in the artist's own words. From career start in 1962, Richter developed both his photorealist and abstracted languages side-by-side, producing voraciously and evolving his artistic style in short intervals. Richter's illusory paintings find themselves on the walls of the world's most revered museums—for instance, London’s Tate Modern displays the Cage (1) – (6), 2006 paintings that were named after experimental composer John Cage and that inspired the balletic 'Rambert Event' hosted by Phillips Berkeley Square in 2016.
£500,000 - 700,000 ‡ ♠
sold for £405,000
London Auction 6 October 2017