Gerhard Richter - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist; Private collection, Cologne

  • Literature

    D. Honisch, ed., Gerhard Richter: Biennale di Venezia, Padiglione tedesco, Essen, 1972, p. 60 (illustrated in black and white); J. Hartenn, ed., Gerhard Richter Bilder 1962-1985, Düsseldorf/Cologne, 1986, p. 60 (illustrated in black and white); B. H. D. Buchloh, P. Gidal, and B. Pelzer, Gerhard Richter: Werkübersicht/ Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Bonn, 1993, p. 16 (illustrated) and p. 153; D. Elger, Gerhard Richter, Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 196

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I do not pursue any particular intentions, system, or direction. I do not have a programme, a style, a course to follow. I have brought not being interested in specialist problems, working themes, in variations toward mastery. I shy away from all restrictions, I do not know what I want, I am I inconsistent, indifferent, passive; I like things that are indeterminate and boundless, and I like persistent uncertainty. Other qualities promote achievement, acquisition, success, but they are as superseded as ideologies, views, concepts and names for things. Now that we do not have priests and philosophers any more, artists are the most important people in the world. That is the only thing that interests me.”

    (Gerhard Richter, artist statement from 1966, taken from N. Serota, ed., Gerhard Richter, London, 1992, p. 109).

    In the history of Gerhard Richter’s painterly career, the artist has focused on the very tenets that underlie the twentieth century’s critical art movements. First and foremost a painter, Richter has been a prolific literary artist as well, ascribing his own art to theoretical writings and publications that help us to define his unique approaches within the scope of postmodern art.

    He is a consummate self-critical artist, aware that each on occasion he engages his viewer and creates a new paradigm to view his artwork. His career has traversed from the early Capitalist Realist pictures in the early 1960s to the Abstrakt Bilder works of recent years . The artist works in these various series with a volte face existence, so that on every juncture a new set of laws exists. While ascribing to the distinct tenets of the artistic movement he references, Richter deliberates between fully ascribing to merely alluding, ultimately basing his own work off the parameters these styles set and not allowing their whole influence to define his artwork. In this way, the artist has remained uniquely visionary: adapting previous modicums to his own perfection. He exercises complete control and discretion over their influence on his own art.

    In 1966 Richter concluded his alluring Capitalist Realist series, in which photographs selected by him were repainted in black, white and grey. He wrote that he had completed this style of painting, and quickly looked to his personal life for inspiration. At the time, Richter was married to Ema Eufinger whose famous portrait Ema (Akt auf einer Treppe), 1966 consumed the artist in the first part of the year. Despite Richter’s use of real-life photographs and imagery, his relationship with his Pop-Art (American) counterparts remained loose. For Richter established a stronger connection to the metaphysical and shied away from the abstraction of any consumer culture or packaged world. Richter’s adaptation of photographs was also more obscured by his painterly touch, so in essence the artist was less concerned with identifying his subject than with the approach to capturing a certain aesthetic.

    In the latter part of 1966 Richter created his very first monochrome paintings. The present lot, Drei Grau übereinander, is from his series of three paintings which exhibit overlapping rectangles of shades of grey in a minimalist white grid.

    With Drei Grau übereinander, Richter investigates the vestiges of monochromatic painting’s history in twentieth century art. Implicit in the meaning of monochromatic painting is the theoretical approach to structuring the canvas as an objective field, one in which the means become the object’s end. Rather than reconstruct, in a figurative sense, a canvas to represent an entity, early twentieth century theorists dissected the idea of the canvas becoming the work itself, with the epistemological sensibilities intrinsically linked to such a concept.

    Kasimir Malevich was the first painter in the long and varied history of the monochrome painting who associated the decision to paint a monochrome central figure with a spiritual and metaphysical explanation. His Black Square from 1915 (cf. figure __) identifies the movement’s earliest beginning and is clearly a direct ancestor to Richter’s canvas. Black Square undoubtedly established more than any other work the preconditions for a Modernist debate of elimination of representation and purity of line.

    As Malevich describes in his critical theory published in 1919, “In one of its many phases, Suprematism has a purely philosophical impetus, cognitive by means of colour: in another, it is a form capable of application by making available a new style of Suprematist decoration. But it may manifest itself in objects as a transformation or embodiment of space within them, thereby removing their singularity from the mind. It has become clear as a result of Suprematist philosophical colour thinking that the will is able to develop an artistic system when the object has been annulled in the artist’s mind as a pictorial framework and a vehicle, and that, as long as objects remain a framework and a vehicle, his will must go on gyrating within a compositional circle and among objective forms.” (Kasimir Malevich, “Non-Objective Art and Suprematism”, taken from L. Zhadova, Malevich: Suprematism and Revolution in Russian Art 1910-1920, London, 1982).

    As progenitor for the rectangular grid, Malevich’s theory inspired an artistic impulse that spread rapidly throughout Europe. Richter’s work on the theme squarely calls into reference the work and writing of Piet Mondrian as well, who was very influential in the developments of the technique. For Mondrian ascribed to the minimalist structure but also relied on the heavy influence with which colors relate to each other. According to Mondrian it is through their position next to each other that there relationship draws significance. In direct opposition to paint and color mimicking a figure or abstraction of an object, Mondrian’s work conceives of the object as the relationship drawn between the mere juxtaposition of color and form (cf. figure __)

    As Mondrian writes in 1919, “In painting you must first try to see composition, colour, and line and not the representation as representation. Then you will finally come to feel the subject matter a hindrance…. The straight line tells the truth; and the significance you want it to have is of no value for painting; such significance is literary, preconceived. Painting has to be purely plastic, and in order to achieve this it must use plastic means that do not signify the individual. This also justifies the use of the rectangular color planes.” (Piet Mondrian, “Dialogue on the New Plastic”, taken from H. Holzman and M. James, eds., The New Art- The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, Boston, 1996).

    The precision and beauty with which Gerhard Richter paints calls to mind not only those of his predecessors, but also a painting of similar aesthetic quality (cf. figure _) by Agnes Martin, in which his American contemporary paints two overlapping bands of grey amongst a white field. The visual connection is important to point out, but the artists approach the subject from different ideologies, thereby identifying the duplicity interpreting the monochromatic rectangle has had since its inception by Malevich and the Suprematists in 1915. Richter’s canvas remains strongly linked to the intrinsic qualities of the European format annulling the object while Martin’s expression is an investigation of personal spirituality and evokes the figure of the landscape as object.

    Ultimately, Richter’s art is deliberate and precise, the beauty of his work lying within his theoretical approach fused with creative spirit. Richter is above all a painter who reflects on the abilities art is able, in an abstract sense, to reflect the spirit of the times and the intellectual systems at place to define them. By examining the picture’s incarnations over time, the artist believes in his profession’s responsibility to articulate these doctrines to the public.

  • Artist Biography

    Gerhard Richter

    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. 

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Drei Grau übereinander (Three greys one upon the other)

Oil and enamel on canvas.
78 3/4 x 59 in. (200 x 149.9 cm).
Signed, numbered and dated “Richter 1966 (Richter 1984) 143-3” on the reverse.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,384,000

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York