S.M.A.K. is glad to present the first museum exhibition of work by Gerhard Richter in Belgium since 1976. Richter is widely regarded as one of the most important artists living and working today, and is considered to be a re-inventor of painting in the Postwar era. This exhibition, organized for his 85th birthday and in cooperation with the Kunstmuseum Bonn, comprises approximately 25 early works, whereby his rarely seen curtain and window paintings provide an entry point to his artistic vocabulary. These works are echoed by a selection of five more recent paintings and sculptures, to mirror fundamental aspects of Richter’s work in the 1960s with his contemporary artistic activities.
In his early works, Richter laid the foundations for his pictorial concept, which continues to be of relevance to his present practice. Since its beginnings, Richter’s work has transcended the historically-grown separation of abstract and figurative painting. His works neither cultivate a complacent game of colours and forms, nor do they create an unbroken image of reality. This is especially the case with his curtain and window pictures of the 1960s – such as Vorhang IV (1965) and Window (1968) – which form the exhibition’s core. Although the pictures refer to the revealing characteristics of figurative art that show us reality, at the same time they lack any illusion of realistic depth.
With 4 panes of glass (1967), jammed between ceiling and floor, Richter brought painting out into the room. This gesture underlines his conceptual approach to the medium in a period when Conceptual and Minimalist tendencies came increasingly to the fore. To Richter, painting means designing surfaces, experimenting with the illusory nature of art. In pictures such as 256 Farben (1974), Richter plays with colour as a material and with randomness, as important elements of his practice, which was also relevant to his scraped paintings, a recent example of which (2016) is on display in this exhibition. In pictures such as Zaun (2008), Richter metaphorically insists on the fundamental problem of painting: that the painterly space is not able to replace any outside reality, but is only an imitation, a depiction of it.
From early on, Gerhard Richter used his oeuvre as a structural and metaphorical reservoir to produce new work. His Inventory of Pictures edition (1969) consists of a list of all the paintings Richter had done so far, whereas his recent House of Cards (2013) is constructed out of seven panes of glass, which lean precariously against each other while mirroring and reflecting their spatial surroundings. The visually overwhelming Strip Paintings (2011-15) are made of digitally recalculated and printed parts of existing paintings, recombined by the artist. In both their application of and formal reflection on the newest imaging technologies, Richter’s recent works reflect the technological shifts – such as virtualization and computerization – from the 1960s to the present.
Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden in 1932 and moved to West Germany in 1961 after finishing his studies in the East. He was part of a group of painters working in Düsseldorf, including Konrad Lueg and Sigmar Polke, who practised figurative painting during the emergence of American Pop art. Richter represented Germany at the 36th Venice Biennale in 1972, and had retrospective exhibitions at many leading museums worldwide. He installed Black Red Gold in the foyer of the Reichstag building in Berlin in 1999. The window that he designed for Cologne Cathedral was completed in 2007. His last exhibition in Belgium dates from 1976, when a travelling exhibition was presented at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels. Gerhard Richter lives and works in Cologne.
Lecture series organized in collaboration with the Herbert Foundation
• 3rd December 2017: Dieter Schwarz speaks on Gerhard Richter’s idea of “Oeuvre” (Herbert Foundation, Coupure Links 627a, 9000 Gent)
• Further dates are to be announced soon on www.smak.be
An exhibition catalogue with contributions by Christoph Schreier (ed.), Philippe van Cauteren, Stephan Berg and Martin Germann was published with Hirmer Verlag.