The German artist’s body of work is as prolific in terms of its contribution to contemporary art as for his market value; Abstraktes Bild famously sold for $44.52 million at Sotheby’s London in 2015. “Many art critics acknowledge Gerhard Richter as the greatest living artist,” says Jiří Fajt, General Director of the National Gallery, who curated this selection of over 70 works spanning a 60 year artistic career with the artist himself. Part of the Czech-German Cultural Spring 2017 programming, “the purpose of the exhibition is to present Richter’s extraordinarily broad palette of artistic means of expression and to show visitors a manifold collection of his crucial works.”
While many German artists of his generation inevitably, and at times seemingly apologetically, created works that responded to the nation’s history tainted with Nazism, Richter stood apart. “Richter does not see, nor does he want his work to refer to German history as a subject matter […] nor his work to be interpreted didactically or dramatised in any way,” Fajt explained in a press statement. Instead, Richter dedicated himself to exploring painting with influences spanning Impressionism to Conceptual art in order to produce works that refused to be stylistically confined, favouring unconditional, autonomous works that are equally important and unimportant.
Richter’s practice is defined by seamless shifts in medium. Photorealistic monochromatic works (from source images often taken directly from newspapers, photographed or traced onto his canvas, and then painted to produce layers of conceptual distance between object and artwork) marked his production in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he explored geometric “colour charts” (revisited in the 2000s with works including the mysterious and slightly controversial 2007 stained glass window installation on the south transept window of the Cologne Cathedral), and then, in his later works, drawings and sculptures. Despite incorporating different art forms, Richter has always revolved around painting and has been heralded for championing what was largely considered a dying and over-exploited technique.
The retrospective will present many of Richter’s most famous works, including the portraits of his daughters Betty and Ella that ominously (and unconsciously, according to the artist) recall the death images of Gudrun Ensslin, a member of German youth protest group the Red Army Faction. Alongside are paintings reflecting everyday life, social issues and landscapes, grey monotones, his colour charts and sheets from his Atlas, a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, and drawings which served as research for his works.