‘Gerhard Richter: Panorama’ is a major retrospective that groups together significant moments from five decades of, arguably, the most important living artist’s career (b.1932, Deresden).
Coinciding with the Richter’s 80th
birthday, ‘Panorama’ presents an overview of the artist’s wide ranging practice and includes many of his most iconic paintings, such as Candle
(1982), a figurative representation of the highly charged and symbolic object often portrayed in traditional history paintings, and his abstract squeegee series (1990s), which are bright and almost acidic. Also exhibited are his more experimental works inspired by Duchamp, such as 4 Panes of Glass
(1967), and his mirror pieces, that give an insight into Richter’s thinking practice, which is constantly analysing the way in which we view and perceive things with different perspectives.
Characterizing the show is a sense that Richer refuses to conform to a particular style, and yet between his hazed photo-realistic portrait paintings, foggy landscapes and bright abstractions is an overbearing consensus of investigation; how can the medium of painting ask us to question and criticise who, what and how we see? Richter does this by disguising and obscuring his subjects from the viewer. He removes us so far from the original source, be it a newspaper clipping of ‘9.11’ or photographic portrait of a member of the Baader Meinhorf group, we can no longer view with any confidence what we once thought of with a certain disposition. For example, in painting again, and again, an increasingly abstracted version of an infamous person, event or old master, Richter distances us from the content of the image in the same way as, and perhaps even as a criticism of, how advertising, the media and capitalism can render an image almost meaningless in their ubiquitous recycling of it.
Richter was one of the first German artists to reflect on the history of National Socialism and continues to respond to significant moments in history. On show is Aunt Marianne
(1965) (see above), a poignant portrait of a family member who died in the Nazi eugenics programme, and a series of works portraying the controversial Baader Meinhorf group. In painting the bookcase and cells of the members, Richter defies a traditional linear history or singular narrative scene. Instead, he proposes a post-modern interpretation of history built of artefacts and fragments that, with the use of a grey palette, remains as impartial as artistically possible, and resists the temptation to romanticize or criticize a subject. In this sense, Richter is, to me, one of the greatest living history painters to have reinvented the genre.
‘Gerhard Richter: Panorama’ is on at Tate Modern, London, until 8 January 2012. For more information see tate.org.uk
Image credit: Aunt Marianne [Tante Marianne], 1965, by Gerhard Richter. Yageo Foundation, Taiwan © Gerhard Richter. Courtesy of Tate modern.