Gerhard Richter Tate Modern exhibition banner

Text by Dr Mark Godfrey, Curator

Gerhard Richter is known for the diversity of his approaches to painting. His practice can seem to be structured by various oppositions, with paintings after photographs countering abstract pictures; traditional still-lifes alongside highly charged subjects; monochrome grey works and multicoloured grids. Some paintings are planned out and ordered; others are the result of unpredictable accumulations of marks and erasures. Even a single painting can seem contradictory, with some areas seeming gestural, and other parts almost mechanic.

Richter sometimes maintains these oppositions, but at other times he undoes them, bringing abstraction and figuration together, or exploring related ideas in very different looking works. For instance the ambition to make impersonal paintings prompted him to replicate readymade photographs, just as it resulted in grey monochromes. As much as we can see breaks and new beginnings in his career, we can also notice concerns that he has pursued throughout his life: addressing painting to historical crisis, working with readymade images and chance procedures, exploring the nature of appearance and the capacities of vision.

The title of this exhibition, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, evokes the intention to look around at the range of Richter’s practice, discovering contradictions and connections, continuities and breaks. Each room is devoted to a particular moment of his career. While the focus is on painting, the exhibition also features glass constructions, mirrors, drawings and photographs.

The exhibition includes figurative works based on canvases by Titian, Vermeer and Caspar David Friedrich, and paintings that recall the twentieth-century history of the monochrome and of utopian abstraction. Richter is highly conscious of his connection to art history yet often stresses that an unbridgeable gap separates him from the traditions of the past. Consequently he is sometimes described as an artist who recognises painting’s compromised role in the present day. However, this recognition has not stopped Richter from asking the most difficult questions of his practice. What are the capacities and limits of painting? What is its relationship to photography, and how can we think about its material status? What are its private and public roles? These are questions he explores to this day.

Gerhard Richter was born in 1932 in Dresden, a city that became part of Communist East Germany after the Second World War. He crossed over to West Germany in 1961, settling in Düsseldorf. Since 1983 he has lived and worked in Cologne.