Wednesday, November 20, 2002
This 40-year survey is the most comprehensive North American exhibition to date of paintings by the highly influential German artist Gerhard Richter. First shown this past winter to broad critical acclaim at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the show at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Feb. 27 – May 18, 2003, features more than 120 works representing Richter’s entire career and his multiple signature styles.
“Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting” includes the artist’s evocative abstract canvases, which he builds mostly from layered and scraped paint–images that have earned him admiration equal to his depictive works. Richter’s blurred renderings of a variety of subjects merge the veracity of photography and the expressiveness of painting. Imagery in these photo-based works ranges from military scenes of the World War II era and a rendering of a Titian masterpiece to dead-pan treatments of mundane household objects, newspaper headlines of both horrific and trivial events, intimate views of family members and romantic landscapes.
Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter grew up under the Third Reich and National Socialism. His first postwar training was in the mural painting department of the Art Academy in Dresden, then a part of East Germany, from 1952 to 1957. Richter moved to West Germany in 1961, encountering Abstract Expressionism, Fluxus and other avant-garde movements. There he became associated with a group of Düsseldorf artists who produced a satirical version of American Pop, which they called “Capitalist Realism.” Mastering both abstract and representational modes, he began subtly commenting on the conventions of artistic styles, mass media’s power and photography’s prevalence in contemporary visual culture. Today celebrated as an artist who has revitalized painting, Richter has continued to use a traditional medium to express complex issues with a conceptual edge.
Sampling of Works
“Uncle Rudi” (1965): This portrait of one of the artist’s maternal uncles, smiling in Nazi uniform, commemorates a family member who was killed in World War II and suggests the tragic historical complexities of Richter’s childhood.
“256 Colors” (1974): This is the prime example of Richter’s “Color Charts,” a series which began as an appropriation of a paint merchant’s sampler and evolved into large-scale, geometrically ordered presentations of carefully mixed pigments.
“October 18, 1977” (1988): This cycle of 15 grisaille paintings is based on news photos of the Baader-Meinhof group, radical students-turned-terrorists who died in a Stuttgart prison in 1977.
“Abstract Picture” (1992): In this multi-layered abstraction made by mixing and moving paint with a squeegee, patches of gray contrast with streaks of red. This work occupies a middle ground between Richter’s vividly colored abstract paintings and his almost monochromatic nonrepresentational works.
“The Reader” (1994): Richter renders this tender, light-filled portrait of his wife, Sabine, with a clear and precise style reminiscent of Vermeer.
The show comes to the Hirshhorn, its final venue, after stops at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Feb. 14 – May 21, 2002), The Art Institute of Chicago (June 22 – Sept. 8, 2002) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Oct. 11, 2002 – Jan. 14, 2003).
Organization and Sponsorship
“Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting” was organized by Robert Storr for The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Storr was formerly senior curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA and is now the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.
“Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting” was made possible by Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder with generous support from Mimi and Peter Haas. An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional funding is provided by Leila and Melville Straus and The Contemporary Arts Council and The Junior Associates of The Museum Modern Art.
The Washington, D.C. presentation is made possible by a generous grant from Neuberger Berman Foundation.
Additional support has been provided by the Holenia Trust in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn.
In addition to a free illustrated brochure, a 336-page hardback catalog, with more than 200 color and duotone reproductions, is available in the Hirshhorn Museum Store for $75 (soft cover edition, $39.95).
Selected Free Programs
Talks and Lectures: “Gallery Talk: Gerhard Richter” (Thursday, Feb. 27, 12:30 p.m.) — Meet curator of works on paper and coordinating curator for the Washington, D.C. presentation Phyllis Rosenzweig at the Information Desk for a walk-through of the show. “Richter’s Wager” (Sunday, March 2, 3 p.m.) — Exhibition curator and catalog essayist Robert Storr offers his view of Richter’s work in this slide-illustrated discussion. “Gerhard Richter’s Photography: Documentation and Metaphor” (Sunday, March 23, 3 p.m.) — Philip Brookman, senior curator of photography and media arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., explores the influence of media images on Richter’s art in this lecture. “New Voices: Forum on Richter” (Sunday, May 18, 3 p.m.) — Join five young art scholars for a discussion in the galleries; meet at the exhibition entrance, second floor.
Films: “Gerhard Richter: Four Decades” (2002), is a discussion between curator Robert Storr and the artist as they walk through the Richter exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. It screens with “Volker Bradke” (1966), Richter’s black-and-white short. (Thursday and Friday, March 6 and 7, 8 p.m. “Gerhard Richter: Four Decades” also screens March 6 at noon).
Workshops: “Improv Art: Translucent Treasures” (Saturday, March 8, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.) — Children ages 5 – 11 (with an adult) create their own Richter-esque picture by painting on acetate-covered photographs or postcards in the Improv Art Room, lower level. “Young at Art: Who Painted All These Blurry Pictures?” (Saturday, March 22, 10 a.m. – noon) — Children ages 6 – 9 (with an adult) hunt for out-of-focus art with storyteller Judith Gravitz and then make special blurry glasses. Preregistration required; call (202) 357-3235 ext. 116. “Art Explorers Workshop for Adults: Pure Paint Explosion” (Friday, March 14, 1 – 3 p.m.) — Experiment on unusual surfaces brought from home after investigating Gerhard Richter’s textures with artist Michèle Colburn. “Art Explorers Workshop for Adults: When Nothing is Clear” (Friday, April 25, 1 – 3 p.m.) — Inspired by Gerhard Richter’s blurred images, use the highly tactile medium of pastels to explore feelings with art therapist Kristrinah Talus-Ayala. Preregistration is required for both “Art Explorers Workshops;” call (202) 357-3235 ext. 116.
Open House for Teachers: Exhibition tour with teachers’ packets, followed by the film “Gerhard Richter: Four Decades.” (Thursday, March 6, 6 – 8 p.m.) Preregistration required; call (202) 357-3235 ext. 117.
Exhibition Tours: Tuesdays – Sundays, March 5 – May 11, 1 p.m. Meet at the Information Desk.