Gerhard Richter – Panorama

Guest writer Alice Nivison views Gerhard Richter’s Panorama at the Tate Modern in London, a retrospective of one of the world’s finest contemporary artists and one of the best exhibitions of 2011, anywhere. Catch it if you can - finishing January 8, 2012. Gerhard Richter – a compilation of contradictions …


Gerhard Richter - Forest (3) [Wald (3)] 1990 (CR 733), Private Collection © Gerhard Richter

Traipsing through Richter’s retrospective is like experiencing four seasons in one day. His canvases conduct painted arguments between winter and summer, where random colour abstractions turn to a sea of grey meditations as one turns the corner into the next room. This somewhat brutal juxtaposition between works so tender and morose, against the gaudy rashness beheld in his 1980’s colour period perhaps reflects the conflict in his personal life...

Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter grew up in a city that became part of Communist East Germany at the end of World War II. At the age of 29 he crossed into West Germany settling in Düsseldorf, where he began to paint works based on advertisements and photographs as a reaction to the contrast between his communist upbringing and the western consumerist society of the 1960s that suddenly engulfed him.


Gerhard Richter - Cage 4 2006 (CR:897-4) Tate. Lent from a private collection 2007 © Gerhard Richter

In many ways it seems there are two Gerhard Richters. There is the artist that is young, impulsive and superficial: big canvas, lots of paint, no time. In these rooms I subconsciously fidget and feel less absorbed - the paintings are so vast and so repetitive they propagate the notion of consumable art and painting as a commodity. The other Richter emerges more slowly, lying quietly in the haunting effervescence of Ema (Nude on a Staircase) 1966, (his reaction to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase), and dissolving in the edges of his Cloud triptych of 1970. This is the Richter that remembers Dresden, the artist who used thick grey brushstrokes to distort aerial photographs of promising post war developments back into the fragmented scenes of their recent obliteration in the late 1960s.


Gerhard Richter - Reader 1994 (CR 804), Courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © Gerhard Richter

So this endless cycle between superficial and meaningful is unfurled across the walls of London’s Tate Modern, as you follow Richter through these rooms constantly moving on from and returning to figurative and abstract styles with his colour and monochrome palettes. The exhibition is a unique insight into the way in which an artist struggles with his craft, passionately pursuing his quest to redefine the practice of painting and express his innermost contemplations.

- words
Alice Nivison, all rights reserved. Images copyright Gerhard Richter, as credited.

About the exhibition (courtesy Tate Modern)

Spanning nearly five decades, and coinciding with the artist’s 80th birthday, Gerhard Richter: Panorama is a major retrospective exhibition that groups together significant moments of his remarkable career.

Since the 1960s,
Gerhard Richter has immersed himself in a rich and varied exploration of painting. Gerhard Richter: Panorama highlights the full extent of the artist's work, which has encompassed a diverse range of techniques and ideas. It includes realist paintings based on photographs, colourful gestural abstractions such as the squeegee paintings, portraits, subtle landscapes and history paintings.

Gerhard Richter was one of the first German artists to reflect on the history of National Socialism, creating paintings of family members who had been members, as well as victims of, the Nazi party. Continuing his historical interest, he produced the 15-part work October 18 1977 1988, a sequence of black and white paintings based on images of the Baader Meinhof group. Richter has continued to respond to significant moments in history throughout his career; the final room of the exhibition includes September 2005, a painting of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Gerhard Richter: Panorama is organised by Tate Modern in association with Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Centre Pompidou, Paris - Gerhard Richter, Panorama, Tate Modern, October 6 2011 – January 8, 2012