Gerhard Richter - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York
    Sale: Christie’s, London, Contemporary Art, October 15, 1992, lot 96
    Galerie Michael Schultz, Berlin
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    B. Buchloh ed., Gerhard Richter: Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, no. 638-4 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    If I paint an abstract picture I neither know in advance what it is supposed to look like, nor where I intend to go when I am painting, what could be done, to what end. For this reason the painting is a quasi blind, desperate effort, like that made by someone who has been cast out into a completely incomprehensible environment with no means of support — by someone who has a reasonable range of tools, materials and abilities and the urgent desire to build something meaningful and useful, but it cannot be a house or a chair or anything else that can be named, and therefore just starts building in the vague hope that his correct, expert activity will finally produce something correct and meaningful.


    (Gerhard Richter quoted in Gerhard Richter, Tate Gallery, London 1991, p. 116).

    Gerhard Richter’s first foray into art, after trying his hand at forestry and later dentistry, was to join a group of hired propagandists that made Communist banners for the government of the German Democratic Republic. During this five-month apprenticeship he was never actually permitted to paint; he was assigned with the task of washing the slogans off the banners in preparation for them to be bedecked once again in the mandates of the Republic. In the present lot, Abstraktes Bild 638-4, 1987, the lingering influence of this formative experience is evident in the ebb and flow of the variegated surface. This position eventually led to his becoming a sign painter and a theater set painter, which exposed him to the wonderful dramas of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, and other classic authors, alongside operas and operettas. Seduced by the bohemian milieu, Richter refused to complete some of the menial jobs assigned to him in the theater, eventually resulting in his being fired. In response to this expulsion, Richter took another job producing propaganda painting posters, but this time for Stalin. Resulting from this string of experiences was his acceptance to the Dresden Art Academy in 1950.

    The five-year curriculum at the Academy was traditional—drawing in the first semesters, eventually followed by painting in oils—and restricted to portraits, nudes, and still lifes. The one area of the syllabus which allowed flexibility was the mural department. It served as a kind of sanctuary and escape from the rigidity of the remainder of the Social Realist program. It was in this class that he became exposed to pictorial ardor and elegance, and after four years of painting, for his fifth and final year, he received a major commission for a mural in the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. His work received widespread recognition, along with the reputation as one of the most soughtafter muralists in Germany. In 1955, he traveled to West Germany, where he saw Documenta 2, an exhibition that aimed to reintroduce Germany into international Modernism after the cultural vacuum of the Third Reich. It was a turning point in his career: “I was enormously impressed by [Jackson] Pollock and [Lucio] Fontana… the sheer brazenness of it! That really fascinated me and impressed me. I might almost say that those paintings were the real reason I left the GDR. I realized that something was wrong with my whole way of thinking.” (Gerhard Richter in an interview with Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, 1986, Daily Practice, p. 132). It was at this point that Richter began to exorcise himself of his formal training.

    Richter’s career has been devoted to exploring and mastering the tradition of oil paint; consequently, his impact has been almost unparalleled in contemporary art. By 1976, when he first conceived of the title Abstraktes Bild, he was already an accomplished painter of real life subjects. Foregoing a belief in the utility of figurative painting, Richter’s artistic process is one of seeking rather than finding. Since the inception of this body of work, his resignation to discover, rather than forge has continued to yield limitless artistic rewards with his visually stunning Abstraktes Bild series. The present lot, Abstraktes Bild 638-4, 1987, is exemplary of his abstract series as a whole,
    in which each painting is “a model or metaphor about a possibility of social coexistence. Looked at in this way, all that I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom.” (Gerhard Richter in M. Hetschel and H. Friedel, eds., Gerhard Richter, 1998, London, 1998, p. 11). Ironically, as we witness in this spellbinding canvas, he achieves this freedom through a rigorous and meticulous technique involving the removal and reapplication of separate layers of paint. With the variance of each layer, chance delivers an unpredictable configuration of colors. The final result is masterful; the painting, though full of static colors, achieves a holistic iridescence. It radiates in both darker and lighter tones of deep blue, its chromatic lifeblood.

    Though Gerhard Richter achieves each abstract picture through a uniquely restrained process, the harmony of the present lot glows with mesmerizing abandon. Hints of lucid green and garnet red poke through a layered cloak of indigo, that is both delicate in its translucence and powerful in its masking of the canvas. The kaleidoscopic surface both reveals and conceals a myriad of layers, colors, and illusions. The liquid surface of the canvas, applied in waves of viscous pigment, betrays a view of a pristine sea, spotted with withering rays from the setting sun. Richter’s rhythm of painting on the canvas gives way to an inherent movement in the picture, one that suggests a gentle undulation of the watery surface.

    Richter’s genius is his inadvertent wealth of visual associations—not those that he aims to find, but those for which he searches. In the ocean of his body of work, the present lot perfectly encompasses the miracle of the Abstraktes Bilds: a treasure trove of discovery from a simple desire to paint. “If a painting is ‘good’, it affects us, in a way that exists beyond ideologies. It affects us through its innate ‘quality’--a phenomena which communicates itself in such a direct and immediate way that it is able to convey a wider understanding of reality without the need to be framed or bracketed by such conventions as ideologies or beliefs. It is, paradoxically perhaps, something that one can always trust or believe in, without the danger of forming an ideology or lapsing into an illusory and artificial belief. And it is in this way that art becomes what Richter has described as ‘the highest form of hope’ and Richter himself the ‘heir to a vast, grand, rich culture of painting...which we have lost, but which still imposes obligations on us.’ ” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Benjamin H.D. Buchloch reproduced in Gerhard Richter: Paintings, London, 1988, p. 21).

  • 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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Abstraktes Bild 638-4

oil on canvas
48 x 34 1/4 in. (121.9 x 87 cm)
Signed, titled, and dated “638-4, Richter, 1987” on the reverse.

$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York