Hello, my name is Mark Godfrey and I am the co-curator of Gerhard Richter: Panorama. The show opens at Tate Modern in two weeks and we are at a very exciting moment right now – the paintings will be unpacked and installed next week, and then finally the show will be open to the public.
Curating a major exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work was been a fascinating challenge - undertaken by a large team. At Tate, I have been working with Nicholas Serota, Director, and Amy Dickson, Assistant Curator. We are working with curators from the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, and the Pompidou in Paris. We’ve also been working closely with the artist, visiting him in Cologne every month or so.
The main part of our challenge has been how to make an exhibition that is ambitious and fresh. For many artists who have large shows at Tate Modern, it is their first major retrospective. Not so for Richter: his work was already shown at Tate twenty years ago, and he has had retrospectives in major museums since the late 1970s including one at MoMA in New York almost ten years ago. In the last few years, his Colour Charts were shown at the Serpentine Gallery, his portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and Atlas, his compendium of photographs and working drawings, at the Whitechapel. I’m sure some of you will remember these exhibitions. We knew our show would not be restricted to one part of Richter’s works such as his portraits, or his abstracts. We also knew that we would be including many works that he has made in the past ten years since his survey show at MoMA, New York. But what else have we done to make this a special exhibition and to present Richter in a new way?
The first question we asked ourselves was about the structure of the show: would we divide the show into themes, genres, or mediums, or keep to a chronological arrangement of works? We talked about these ideas for a while but decided on a broadly chronological structure. Hanging the show chronologically doesn’t mean that we simply want to chart development over time. Instead, it allows us to see how Richter sometimes starts an idea in one decade and then leaves it for a while, taking it up again much later. We can also see how he reacts to the times he’s living through, but not with immediate responses.
For instance, Richter lived through events associated with the Baader Meinhof group in the 1970s, but only came to make paintings based on these events over a decade later.
The next question we discussed was the selection of work. Richter has made thousands of works: a large show will only include a tiny fragment of his overall production. So how do we choose what to show? There were some landmark works that we all agreed were essential to any major presentation of his work. But we also wanted to show works that weren’t that well known, and that had not been seen so much. Sometimes we made decisions as we travelled around Germany looking at works. For instance, we went to see a group of his paintings in the Kunstmuseum, Bonn and found his 1968 Moonscape II. This seemed fascinating to us, and it’s in the show. We also visited a college in the centre of Germany where his 1980 painting Stroke (on Red) was installed. It is 20 metres long and has never been shown outside Germany. We felt that it brought together many of his ideas about photography and painting (it is based on a photograph of a 1 metre brush stroke) and about gesture and mediation (we think of a brush stroke as a quickly made mark, but this stroke must have taken months to paint). We will be displaying it on the concourse.
We’ve got a triptych of Cloud paintings from 1970. These are in the National Gallery of Canada and haven’t been included in any of Richter’s shows outside Canada since the 1970s. We also decided early on to show the material diversity of Richter’s practice. Of course he works primarily with painting. He has been called the greatest living painter, but refers to his practice in rather less heroic terms as the last flicker of post-war painting. However we think about his approach to painting and its history, we should also recognise that Richter has been making glass constructions since 1967 and he began working with mirrors in 1981. We will have five glass and mirror works at different points in the show, as well as a room of monotype prints, photographs, drawings, book spreads, and overpainted photographs. We didn’t just want to underline the fact that the artist has made a lot of work that is not paint-on-canvas: it is important to show how Richter works with these media to ask new questions about painting. I will write more about another week.
Another aspect of our work preparing the show was to decide on the position of walls and the number of works in each gallery. In our galleries at Tate Modern, some walls are fixed, and some are temporary and can be knocked down and built depending on the needs of the show. Some of you will have seen the Miró show this summer. In order to show four groups of triptychs, the curators built two octagonal rooms and these looked amazing. Richter’s work has different requirements. We have a range of intimate rooms and more expansive spaces, and in two rooms, we have opened windows so viewers have a sense of the outside world. I’m sure the works will look good in the spaces. We’ve been looking at many of the early installation shots of Richter’s museum shows in the 1970s. He would often place works reasonably close together – closer than we are used to nowadays in more minimal or spare hangs. In some galleries we will install the works like this.
As I write, the works are mainly in crates, travelling across the States and Europe to Tate Modern. I’ve seen many of them in the flesh while researching the show, but there are a number that will be new to me. I can’t wait to see them on the walls, and hope you’ll be able to see them too.