Gerhard Richter - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 14, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, United States
    Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

  • Exhibited

    New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Paintings from 2003-2005, November 17, 2005 – January 14, 2006

  • Literature

    A. Zweite, Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné for the Paintings 1993-2004, Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag, New York: D.A.P Distributed Art Publishers, 2005, no. 883-4 (illustrated)
    Gerhard Richter: Paintings from 2003-2005, exh. cat., Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2006, p. 37 (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." Gerhard Richter, 1991

    Throughout his half-century career, Gerhard Richter has often gone grey. His initial experiments with abstract monochromatic composition were an important milestone: he first began making them shortly after his acclaimed figurative series 48 Portraits was shown at the 1972 Venice Biennale, and they came before his distinctively vibrant 1980s period. The grey paintings are far more, however, than a conceptual blank slate or tabula rasa.

    Through his painting Richter aims to determine the future of paint as medium, and particularly its relationship to the challenge of photography. His works strongly resist the idea of a picture as having a “subject,” even in the most abstracted sense: as Richter’s friend and critic Dietmar Elger has noted, “it is precisely in this stripping away of artistry that the painterly qualities achieve a lasting effect.” (Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. 209). The grey works form perhaps the purest expression of Richter’s unique and vastly influential investigation into the nature of painting, and offer an insight into his most piercing of questions – “how painting could be made without treating colour as a compositional element, and how the practice of painting could continue without subjective content.” (M. Godfrey, “Damaged Landscapes”, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, p. 86)

    Closely related to a series of works depicting the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, the present lot – in its silhouette of a rising tower under a veil of variegated and ghostly greys – Richter visually captures the impossibility of verbally describing the most consequential occurrence in recent world history. Depicting the explosion of United Airlines Flight 175 as it hit the South Tower, the painting, embodies a powerful sense of the enormity and significance of the event; through his thoughtful and unrivaled treatment, Richter evokes an existential numbness, sadness and incomprehension. Described by critic Bryan Appleyard for The Sunday Times as "the closest you will get to a great 9/11 work" he goes on to assert that "It reclaims the day, leaving it exactly where it was, exactly when it happened." (Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times, Culture, 28.08.11, p.11.)

    The present lot was executed through Richter’s famed squeegee method, in which layers of oil paint are scraped across the canvas using a section of flexible Perspex attached to a wooden handle. Existing wet layers of paint are disturbed as new layers are applied, creating a distinctive and unpredictable blur. One of Richter’s most recognisable motifs, the technique has been used in a wide variety of ways, from overpainting photorealist works with rifts of distortion to creating huge, multivalent and deeply textural abstract pieces. This mature work shows the artist working with consummate clarity of purpose.

    Here, the introduction of paler tone to the left of the painting imparts a zinc-like sheen. What may appear at a distance to be a rather plain surface reveals subtle variations in texture on closer inspection, with soft blooms of light and shade reminiscent of some of Richter’s cloud paintings, and an underlayer of dark paint making harsher incursions. There is an absence of emotion or vigour, true to our traditional associations of grey with neutrality; yet it is clear that the use of the colour holds purifying or even therapeutic power for Richter, pulling him back from overwhelming indirection to a restrained lucidity. “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). True to his profoundly coherent conceptual practice, Richter makes a seamless move from the personal to the impersonal, the specific to the universal, and in doing so reveals the inherent qualities of painting itself.

    More effectively than any other living artist, Richter navigates the philosophically complex interplay between image and idea. Aside from the intellectual streamlining that grey offers, it is expressive of particular modes of being. For Richter, “grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape. But grey, like formlessness and the rest, can be real only as an idea, and so all I can do is create a colour nuance that means grey but is not it. The painting is then a mixture of grey as a fiction and grey as a visible, designated area of colour.” (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.92). Our conceptions of “grey” are thus confronted by a painting of “grey,” resulting in a work of perhaps startling contemplative power: world-leading technique is galvanised by keen intellect, and sharply realised complexity manifests in a deceptively simple surface.

    “And ween not, for I call it a darkness or a cloud, that it be any cloud congealed of the humours that flee in the air, nor yet any darkness such as is in thine house on nights when the candle is out. For such a darkness and such a cloud mayest thou imagine with curiosity of wit, for to bear before thine eyes in the lightest day of summer: and also contrariwise in the darkest night of winter, thou mayest imagine a clear shining light. Let be such falsehood. I mean not thus. For when I say darkness, I mean a lacking of knowing: as all that thing that thou knowest not, or else that thou hast forgotten, it is dark to thee; for thou seest it not with thy ghostly eye.” -The Cloud of Unknowing, anon., late 14th Century

  • 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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Grey (Grau)

oil on canvas
20 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (52 x 47 cm)
Signed, numbered and dated "Richter 2003 883-4" on the reverse.
This work can be seen in the following video: September, A History Painting by Gerhard Richter, Robert Storr, 2009

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,085,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm