Cage (1) – (6) 2006 is a group of six large, square abstract paintings by the German artist Gerhard Richter. Three of the canvases measure 2900 x 2900 mm, while the other three are slightly larger, at 3000 x 3000 mm each. The paintings all have a similar thickly painted surface that is rough and textured in appearance. They are composed of a progression of horizontal and vertical bands and a series of multi-directional scratches and indentations that are scraped into the painted surface. In specific areas of the paintings, the upper layers of paint have been removed and several sublayers of colour exposed. In each painting, the layers of colours and the composition of the bands and marks are different. Cage (1) is predominantly lime green in hue with a wide bottle green bar running horizontally across the upper quarter of the composition, and at the far right of the work is a wide vertical band composed mostly of white, but also containing yellow and green. Cage (2) is largely pale grey, white and lime green, with small exposed areas of bright red and charcoal grey. Cage (3) is composed of multiple scratch marks and indentations and is mostly light grey and white, with small patches of lime green, bottle green, dark grey, blue and red. Cage (4) has multiple sublayers of paint exposed, while Cage (5) is predominantly grey with white, red, pale yellow and a small amount of black. Cage (6) is the most varied in its range of exposed underlying colours, but it overall composition is mainly green, white, yellow, black and blue. The paintings are designed to be hung together in one large gallery space.
Richter made the Cage paintings in his studio in Cologne in 2006. Art historian and curator Robert Storr has recorded Richter’s process of conceiving and executing the paintings in a detailed photographic and textual account that documents each successive developmental stage (see Robert Storr, ‘The Cage Series: Paintings by Gerhard Richter’, 2009, https://www.gerhard-richter.com/en/videos/works/the-cage-paintings-40, accessed 17 June 2016). ‘One does not find many brush marks’ in the paintings, notes Storr, adding that ‘the squeegee is the main protagonist’ (see Storr, 2009, p.69). Storr posits Richter’s use of the squeegee and what he refers to as the resulting ‘smears’ as the artist’s single most innovative contribution to the history of painting. He observes that Richter’s large, handmade squeegee tools, which often extend to several metres wide, have a clear flexible edge, allowing Richter to observe what is occurring on both sides of the blade as it moves across the surface of the painting distributing pre-applied amounts of paint. Storr continues:
Depending on the quantity, consistency, and placement of the paint and the degree of pressure employed, the oily material will stick to, and for the most part conceal the layer beneath with a uniform smoothness, mix with the preceding layer causing streaks and blooming chromatic tonal fusions, fail to stick and leave little cavities and canyons.
(Storr 2009, p.69.)
In addition to oil paint Richter also regularly used oil of carnation as a retarder to prevent the paint from drying too quickly. According to Storr, this had the effect of creating ‘striations that suggest motion as well as magnification as if the image were passing by the viewer at high speed like a matrix of vastly enlarged mineral particles miraculously glimpsed in a nuclear accelerator’ (Storr 2009, pp.64–5).
The Cage paintings are named after American minimalist and experimental composer John Cage, whom Richter greatly admired and to whose music the artist listened during the period he was making these paintings in 2006 (Storr 2009, accessed 17 June 2016). Richter first encountered Cage in the 1960s at a performance given by the composer at the Düsseldorf Academy, where the artist was studying. Cage performed a piece in which he wrote with a microphone attached to a pen so that the scratching sound of the pen moving across the surface of the paper was transmitted. In an interview with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2006, Richter discussed the Cage paintings and the ongoing significance of John Cage’s concepts of discipline, chance and coincidence for his works. Chance plays a definitive role in abstract painting, Richter explained: ‘Despite all my technical experience, I cannot always exactly foresee what will happen when I apply or remove large amounts of paint with the scraper. Surprises emerge, disappointing ones, pleasant ones, which in any case represent changes to the painting – changes that I have to process first in my mind before I can continue’ (Richter 2009, p.531).
What Richter and Cage both share, observed Storr, is ‘a willingness to let go of certain kinds of control in order that other things happen’ (Storr 2009, accessed 17 June 2016). However, Richter has noted that the coincidences only become useful in his paintings when they have been ‘worked out’ – as he described it, either ‘eliminated’, ‘allowed’, ‘emphasized’ or ‘brought into a particular form’ (Richter 2009 p.531). He concludes that this is what constitutes the ‘skilful’ and the ‘artistic’ (Richter 2009 p.531).
The Cage paintings were displayed for the first time at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007 in an exhibition curated by Storr entitled Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense.
Robert Storr, Cage: Six Paintings by Gerhard Richter, London 2009.
Gerhard Richter, Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, London 2009.