It was really amazing to go up into the galleries after all the hard work of the last two weeks (and two years) and to see so many people looking at the show. It has been a wonderful few days: the artist came for the opening, and was very pleased to see how the installation had turned out.
Long term friends, curators who have made important shows with him, studio assistants, dedicated and passionate collectors of his work - all these people were here to celebrate the opening. On Wednesday we had a packed out talk by the art historian Benjamin Buchloh, who has written on his work since 1977 - a talk which looked in great detail at Richter’s responses to painters like Lucio Fontana, Jean Fautrier, and Robert Rauschenberg in 1962. And yesterday we screened Corinna Belz’s film ‘Gerhard Richter Painting’ in which (amongst other things) she shows Richter in the act of painting the large horizontal white abstract painting in the 13th room of our show. (This will be screened regularly during the show - check the website for details).
I am looking forward to people coming to the show but also to being a viewer myself, and getting to spend so much time with the work. Each time I walk through the show, more questions come to mind: what different painterly techniques did Richter work with in 1962 and 1963 to achieve the strange surfaces of the first paintings in the show such as Table and Dead, all made before he began to ‘blur’ his photopaintings? Did Richter know much about Leni Riefenstahl when he painted Negroes (Nuba) in 1964, based on one of her images of the Nuba (Room 1), and if so, what of it? How much was he thinking about recent American abstraction when he made the weird small abstract paintings in Room 2? How was it that he came to paint a Moonscape in Room 3 the year before the moon landing? How odd are the colours of the skies in the Cloud triptych in Room 5, which I did not see in the flesh before last week? How can we think about the early 1980s abstracts in Room 6, where Richter placed geometric shapes next to brash brushstrokes? The arguments that these are mere parodies of painting miss the mark as much as the suggestions that they are spontaneous expressions of painterly joy…
How exactly does Richter peel paint off the surface of an abstraction such as Abstract Painting (above) on view in Room 10 and expose an underlayer in such a pristine way? How does he prepare an aluminium surface before beginning to paint on it for the 858 paintings (Room 10)? These are questions I will be discussing with our painting conservator, Rachel Barker, on this blog in a few weeks.
Why is it that the subjects of so many of his portraits since the 1980s - not just Betty (above) - were looking away from the camera when the photos on which the portraits were taken were made, and what does it mean - as we look at the paintings - that they averted their gaze? What could we make of the connections between these portraits and the glass works where we, as viewers, are portrayed, but always as ghostly reflections? What might we make of the range of photographs that have been the basis for the photopaintings of the last ten years - photos of flowers, of the World Trade Centre attacks, of his daughter Ella? For me, one of the great pleasures of curating is to open up these questions in such a way that they can be considered in front of the works rather than in the lecture hall or with a book in your hands. So please let me know your thoughts - and check back to this blog where I’ll be giving some tentative responses as the weeks go by.
Mark Godfrey is co-curator of Gerhard Richter: Panorama