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  • Video

    Gerhard Richter 'Weiß (White)', 1988

    "In the case of the abstractions, I get vague notions of pictures that are just asking to be painted. That’s how it starts, but nearly always the result is not at all what I imagined." Gerhard Richter’s artistic process is one of seeking rather than finding, building his canvas through sumptuous layers and gestures of paint. 'Weiß', 1988, is an exemplary example from this canonical Abstraktes Bild series. Peter Sumner, director and head of Contemporary Art in London presents Gerhard Richter's 'Weiß (White)', a highlight from the Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 16 October 2013.

  • Provenance

    Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Gerhard Richter 1988/89, 15 October – 03 December 1989

  • Literature

    K. Schampers,A. Tilroe, B.Buchloh, Gerhard Richter 1988/89, Exh. Cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, 1989, p. 161 (mentioned), p. 105 (illustrated)
    B. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962–1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 685-1 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “ In the case of the abstractions, I get vague notions of pictures that are just asking to be painted. That’s how it starts, but nearly always the result is not at all what I imagined.” GERHARD RICHTER

    “ If I paint an abstract picture I neither know in advance what it is supposed to look like, norwhere I intend to go when I am painting, what could be done, to what end. For this reason thepainting is a quasi blind, desperate effort […] the urgent desire to build something meaningful and useful.” GERHARD RICHTER

    Devoting his illustrious career to the exploration and mastery of oil paint, Gerhard Richter’s legacy is one unparalleled in contemporary art. First conceiving of his series of Abstraktes Bild by 1976, the artist had already proven himself as an accomplished painter of real life subjects and historical subject matter. 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. Richter’s artistic process is one of seeking rather than finding, building his canvas through sumptuous layers and gestures of paint. The present lot, Weiß, 1988, is an exemplary offering from this canonical series, in which each painting is “a model or metaphor about a possibility of social coexistence […] bring[ing] together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom.” (Gerhard Richter, quoted inGerhard Richter, eds.M. Hetschel and H. Friedel, 1998, London, 1998, p. 11). Here, the artist 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 colours. The final result is nothing short of sublime; the painting, though undulating with colours below a quiet surface, achieves a holistic iridescence. It ebbs and flows through darker and lighter scales of grey, its chromatic lifeblood. In Weiß, translating to White, the relationship between light and darkness and the absence and presence of colours becomes symbiotic.

    Indeed, Richter’s oeuvre, which includes his early colour chart paintings as well as his later portraits, is characterized by bold organizations of colour. In this manner, his work equates to a complex intellectual study in both mathematics and optical experience. Distinguished in such work as Drei Grau übereinander (Three greys one upon the other), 1966/84, and other colour charts, these particular works− while responses to Pop art and Minimalism− also chronicle his career as a scientific artist, one who finds experimental uses for the conventional palette. It is in these paintings that we see Richter’s most vigorous rational pursuits and a crossroads of artistry and intellect. His abstract series, represented here in in Weiß, 1988, comes from a visceral and unrestrained process of creation− it could not present a more dramatic stylistic departure from these other series. The artist’s calculated measures are replaced by a sense of chance, arising through the possibility of destruction and renewal: “If, while I’m painting, I distort or destroy a motif, it is not a planned or conscious act, but rather it has a different justification: I see the motif, the way I painted it, is somehow ugly or unbearable. Then I try to follow my feelings and make it attractive. And that means a process of painting, changing or destroying− for however long it takes− until I think it has improved. And I don’t demand an explanation from myself as to why this is so.” (Gerhard Richter in G. Richter, Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London: Thames & Hudson, 2009, p. 365)

    With this insight into his methodical way of thinking, we further understand the fundamentals of his processes as well appreciate the drastic evolution of his work. In his personal notes, written in 1974, Richter explains, “In order to represent all shades of colour that occur in one picture I developed a system that—starting on the basis of the three primary colours and grey—proceed in stages that were always equal and made possible an ever-increasing degree in differentiation.” (“Gerhard Richter: Notes 1966-1990”, Gerhard Richter, London 1991, p. 111) Though Gerhard Richter achieves each abstract picture through a unique and unrestrained process, the present lot has a distinct and soothing harmony; hints of yellow, chartreuse green, red and russet brown trickle just below the surface of slate grey, black and white. Here, the intimation of a prism peaks through a layered cloak of greys, reclining across the surface of the canvas with mesmerizing abandon. Richter’s rhythm of painting gives way to an inherent movement in the picture, one that suggests a gentle undulation of the watery surface. One is inclined to think of Goethe’s colour theory, maintaining the correlation between colours, shade and light, in fact, that colours are the interplay between darkness and light. In this way, Weiß pronounces itself as the great unifier of all Richter’s paintings, refracting all colour and perception.

    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

    One of the most influential living painters, 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’s oeuvre oscillates between unorthodoxy and realism, much to the delight of institutions and the market alike.  

    From his career start in 1962, Richter developed both his photorealist and abstracted languages side-by-side, producing voraciously and evolving his artistic style in rapid intervals. Many of Richter's paintings find themselves in the permanent collections of the world's most revered museums. 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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Weiß (White)

oil on canvas
112 x 102 cm. (44 1/8 x 40 1/8 in.)
Signed and dated 'Richter 1988' on the reverse.

£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £2,434,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 16 October 2013