Gerhard Richter - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection, Bern
    Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
    C & M Arts, New York
    Property From An Important California Collection, 2005
    London, Christie's, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 11 October 2012, lot 13
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    J. Harten & D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 1986, no. 579-3, p. 333 (illustrated)
    B. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III: 1962-1993, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, no. 579-3 (illustrated)
    M. Hierholzer, Gerhard Richter in: Deutschland/Germany, February 1998, p. 65 (illustrated)
    M. Thibaut, Mit Vernunft und Zurückhaltung, in: Handelsblatt, 19, 20, 21 October 2012, p. 76
    D. Elger, Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 3: 1976-1987, Ostfildern-Ruit 2013, p. 463, no. 579-3 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Gerhard Richter first engaged with the beginnings of geometric abstraction in his colour chart works carried out in the late 1960’s. Returning to them in the early 70’s he integrated chance into his choice of palette rather than constraining his selection to the industrial paint charts from which he started. In this decade he also began his painting technique referred to as ‘Vermalung’, or ‘Inpainting’. This method involves the reworking of figurative painting to such an extent that most or all of the original image is eradicated. The inspiration for this transformation can be seen to lie in the artist’s interest in the ‘Art Informel’ movement, which denoted an improvisatory methodology and a highly gestural technique. The subsequent canvases feature a think impasto with clearly visible, sweeping and impulsive brushstrokes.

    Alongside his American contemporaries including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly, Richter was testing the perimeters and possibilities offered by minimalism and abstraction: ‘From 1968 through 1976 the monochrome preoccupied him, but by the latter part of the decade it became apparent to him that there was no way he could paint himself out of the gray corner he had been led into by the example of minimalism and his own anti-expressive inclinations.’ (Robert Storr, Forty Years of Painting, p.68) His most celebrated breakthrough occurred in 1977, in the execution of the Abstraktes Bild series; colourful, bold paintings that feature a variety of surface textures and techniques. His development of abstraction carried on to dominate his oeuvre through the 1980’s. In 1985, when this particular lot was created, Richter was revelling in his period of highest critical acclaim and attention.

    The title of the lot itself refers to one of the renowned art historians who wrote about Richter during this period. U.L., in fact, comprises its name from the initials of the curator Ulrich Loock, who was particularly interested in the artist's work. Loock was one of the collaborators in the organisation of the retrospective carried out in the year after the painting's completion, and was also one of the authors of the artist’s catalogue of oeuvres. The work is one out of four that share this quality of academic and critic muse as dedication (the second being B.B., in reference to Benjamin Buchloh the art writer, the third, C.B., to Coosje Van Bruggen and the fourth to Denys Zacharopoulos, who was one of the contributing writers in the Catalogue formation along with Loock himself).

    U.L. is an aptly detailed and critical investigation into perception, space, form and colour. The multilayered surface permits glimpses into different layers of medium, expression and interpretation, allowing the viewer to see into the artist’s mind and creative process. The canvas presents a logical progression from his previous Photorealist interest, mainly explored in the early 80’s. The reveal of the smooth, photo-realist blue segment in the left section of the painting confirms this conceptual and technical backdrop, looking into the reduction of forms and the amalgamation of mediums. The surrounding areas of the painting emerge from further developments in the artist’s creative process. Progressing brushstroke by brushstroke, the layered, accumulative painting evolves with time and material addition. Gradually inserting element upon element, Richter expands upon his depicted motifs, extending and enlarging them amongst their surrounding components.

    The acknowledgment of photographic influence, in the sky blue segment on the far left of the picture plane, is juxtaposed by the abstract paint application and gestural brushstrokes in the rest of the work. The explosions of reds and yellows than span the canvas portray a classically dynamic addition to Richter’s abstract series. This dynamism is partly created in the depth of surface, created in the mixing of artistic techniques. The flattest level is created in the photographic element to the left. This flatness is then developed in the application of think, impasto paint applications. Richter favoured the use of the squeegee, a tool that enables impulsive yet precise applications of paint layers. The squeegee usually comprises a length of flexible Perspex fitted with a wooden handle that allows for the etching or smearing of paint across the surface. The artist also uses the implement by distributing oil paint along its length before application to create a wet on wet effect that further disturbs and exaggerates the created superficial texture and interplay. Finally, Richter completes the painting with a top layer of wide, hand-worked brushstrokes. The amalgamation of methods forms an intricate and multi-dimensional entirety, cohesive yet complex in construction. This depth is also reflected in the choice of colour palette, which spans various shades and nuances. The vibrant depiction stems from the initial sky blue, then continues to include deep reds, yellows and greens that interchange and merge along the surface of the work.

    The conceptual confrontation addressed in the painting, in the merging of mediums, is reflected in its composition. A kind of line of symmetry is created in the central area of the canvas, where the artist seems to fragment his painting in a semi-reflective interpretation. This incorporated divide exemplifies his approach: both dividing and incorporating various concepts within his oeuvre. 'A picture like this is painted in different layers, separated by intervals of time. The first layer mostly represents the background, which has a photographic, illusionistic look to it, though done without using a photograph. This first, smooth, soft-edged paint surface is like a finished picture; but after a while I decide that I understand it or have seen enough of it, and in the next stage of painting I partly destroy it, partly add to it; and so it goes on at intervals, till there is nothing more to do and the picture is finished. By then it is a Something which I understand in the same way it confronts me, as both incomprehensible and self-sufficient. An attempt to jump over my own shadow... At that stage the whole thing looks very spontaneous. But in between there are usually long intervals of time, and those destroy a mood. It is a highly planned kind of spontaneity'. (G. Richter, 1984, quoted in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, D. Britt (trans), London, 1995, p. 112)

    There is a certain effervescent tension in the contrasting conceptual forces involved in Richter’s creative process. As the motives are made, obscured, effaced, then re-invented, they emerge in a new and singular light. The resulting effect is evocative of something primal yet progressive, using the language of abstraction, detachment and accretion to reveal unprecedented realities on a both physical and perceptual level. ‘Perhaps because I’m a bit uncertain, a bit volatile...I’d always been fascinated by abstraction. It’s so mysterious, like an unknown land.’ (Gerhard Richter, 2011)

    This element of the unknown is reflected in Richter’s appropriation and acceptance of the determining element of chance in his work. Outcomes cannot be predetermined; since each step is contingent upon the preceding and subsequent action the concluding whole cannot be entirely predicted. The instinctive and progressive process that his method implies forms connections with the practice of the mid twentieth-century Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock. The artist’s iconic ‘drip paintings’ feature this manipulation of fate: the paint determines its final arrangement yet the paintings are initially and influentially determined by the preliminary choices of the artist himself. Richter continues this approach, relinquishing control in order to favour unmitigated expression. The artist clarifies: ‘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… 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)

    This courageous abandon with which the artist regards his work is reflected in his innovation as a colourist, compared to that of Mark Rothko. Rothko, a member of the ‘Colour Field’ movement who experimented with new ways of handling paint and colour, was largely concerned with the juxtaposition of colours and surfaces. His non-figurative paintings, like Richter’s, give the impression of layering and imbedded disclosure: constantly revealing colours and elements beneath the covering surfaces. U.L. thus gives homage to the greatest abstract artists of the twentieth century, whilst still finding an elusive and innovative quality in its unique interpretation. ‘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 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, in N. Serota, ed., Gerhard Richter, London, 1992, p. 109)

    U.L. is a concrete example of Richter’s success in the re-interpretation of image and the re-evaluation of its potential. In his exploration into the limits of painting, pushing the boundaries of expression and depiction, he encourages the viewer to reflect this originality in their perception of his works. The audience is incited to follow the artist’s guidance; pursuing his motions of impulsive revision, incorporation and amalgamation to reach an unexpected yet unified result. ‘With abstract painting we created for ourselves a better possibility of approaching what is non-visual and incomprehensible, because it portrays 'nothing' directly visually, with all the means available to art. Used to recognizing something real in pictures, we rightly refuse to regard only colour (in all its multiplicity) as what has been made visible and instead involve ourselves in seeing the non-visual, that which hitherto had never been seen and that is not visible…Thus paintings are all the better, the more beautiful, intelligent, crazy and extreme, the more clearly perceptible and the less decipherable metaphors they are for this incomprehensible reality. Art is the highest form of hope’. (Gerhard Richter, in exhibition catalogue, Documenta 7, 1982, p.119)

  • 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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oil on canvas
82 x 67 cm (32 1/4 x 26 3/8 in.)
Signed, numbered and dated 'Richter 1985 579-3' on the reverse.

£1,500,000 - 2,000,000 ‡ ♠

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm