Gerhard Richter

128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978) II (Editions CR:99)


Not on display

Gerhard Richter born 1932
Original title
128 Fotos von einem Bild (Halifax 1978) II
8 digital prints on card
Frame: 654 × 1018 × 25 mm
displayed: 1312 × 4076 × 25 mm (Portrait orientation)
displayed: 4076 × 1312 × 25 mm (Landscape orientation)
Purchased 2012


128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978) II (Editions CR:99) is a photographic edition made by Richter in 1998 based on his photographic work made in 1978 titled 128 Photographs of a Picture (Kunstmuseen Krefeld). The work from 1978 also related to the artist’s book 128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978) I, published in 1980 by the Nova Scotia College of Art as the second in a series of pamphlets. The work from 1978 comprises 128 black and white photographs of the surface of a small abstract painting by Richter titled Halifax, painted in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1978, and numbered 432–5 in Richter’s catalogue of paintings. Richter was in the Canadian city as the guest of his friend, the art historian and critic Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, who was teaching at the art school there. Richter was a guest professor at the school.

When he visited Halifax Richter was at a transitional point in his career. He had spent most of the 1970s painting grey monochrome panels and reducing the language of his painting. Realising he had reached an impasse, he began to create a small number of abstract paintings or constructions employing geometric shapes, setting vibrant orange flashes against a largely brown and black ground. These were followed by small abstract panels that he often referred to as sketches. The sketches tended to juxtapose different kinds of brushwork, as well as a range of colours. Richter called them ‘experiments with no particular plan, style, ideology, construction or expression.’ (Gerhard Richter, ‘Letter to Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, 30 August 1979’, in Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961–2007, New York 2009, p.114.) Richter would photograph the sketches and produce slides with crops of the photographs. He would project the slides onto larger canvases, and copy the projected images, producing large abstractions that were mediated and softened versions of the smaller sketches. Richter referred to the large works as ‘pictures’ rather than ‘paintings’ because ‘they replace the reality of the painted studies with their appearance’ (Richter 2009, p.114).

Richter continued to make these sketches in Halifax and mounted an exhibition that he titled ‘Pictures’ at the Anna Leonowens Gallery of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in June 1978. One of the works in the show was a small panel measuring 520 x 780 mm that he titled Halifax. It features a number of blue, green, yellow and white quickly-made strokes of paint against a purple and red ground. It is this painting that he used to make 128 Photographs of a Picture that same year.

To extend his interest in the relationship between a ‘real’ painted surface and a ‘picture’ of it in a new direction, instead of using photographs of Halifax as the source for an enlarged painting, Richter instead used them to create this stand-alone photographic work. He used black and white film and photographed sections of the surface from different angles, different distances, different sides, and in different light conditions. The resulting photographs, which give no information about the composition of Halifax or about its colours, were presented in a regular grid, but not in an order reflecting the position of the camera in relation to the painting. 128 Photographs of a Picture was first shown at the Anna Leonowens Gallery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in August 1978.

The work from 1978 can be related to many of Richter’s ongoing concerns. First, it instantiated a new confrontation between painting and photography: up until this point, Richter had used readymade photographs as the basis for figurative paintings, and subsequently, photographs of abstract paintings as the basis for abstract ‘pictures’. Now he was using a camera and training it on an abstract painting to create an independent photographic work. This direction was pursued in different ways much later on, for instance in 1996 for the artist book Abstract Painting 825–11, 69 Details. Second, the work continued Richter’s exploration of appearance. Here he was interested in the way photographs at once reveal so little about the conventionally understood appearance of the painting Halifax, while being faithful records of its appearance from those specific angles and in those light conditions. Third the work related to Richter’s radical questioning of the conventions of landscape, since the photographs resemble aerial views such as the ones he had used for his City Paintings in the late 1960s. In this way they recall Man Ray’s photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s 1915–1923 work The Large Glass (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia), titled Dust Breeding 1920 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). This connection indicates a fourth context for 128 Photographs of a Picture in Richter’s output, namely his engagement with Duchamp’s work.

The photographic edition from 1998 comprises eight framed sheets, each with a grid of sixteen photographs. As well as the earlier work from 1978, it relates closely to two paintings from 1977–8 in Tate’s collection, Oil Sketch No.432/11 1977 (Tate T02380) and Abstract Painting No.439 1978 (Tate T02348), the former being the ‘sketch’ that was photographed as the basis for the latter. When compared with these two works, 128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978) II (Editions CR:99) demonstrates how Richter was working at this transitional moment in his practice.

Further reading
Hubertus Butin (ed.), Gerhard Richter: Editions 1965–2004, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004.
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009.
Dietmar Elger and Hans-Ulrich Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter, Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, London 2009.

Mark Godfrey
December 2011

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