Critics’ Picks

Gerhard Richter, 7.1991, ink on paper, 6 1/2 x 9 7/16”.

New York

Gerhard Richter

The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
July 25 - November 18

“I would have guessed that these were made by twenty different people.” This snippet of conversation, overheard as I perused this tightly curated exhibition, took the words right out of my mouth. The range and variety of Gerhard Richter’s drawings and watercolors––in terms of medium, style, scale, and technique––seem like the fruits not of a solitary effort but rather of some group show. The present collection of over fifty works on paper suggests the elasticity of this format in his oeuvre––one almost exclusively associated with photography-based and abstract painting.

Several of the works, such as 21.5.1986 and 16.8.1991, evoke the scratched tracings of a seismic graph, by turns regular and volatile in their parallel hatchings. The latter, however, bears an attendant liberated use of line that, in other examples, sprawls nervously over the sheet. Meanwhile 13.2.1986 (1) amounts to a heap of agitated scribbles, while in a similar work from the same period, 13.2.1986 (6), the artist’s own manic signature, repeated several times, forms part of the stormy scrawl itself. By contrast, the tight and controlled Untitled, 1978, looks like it could have been a preparatory study for an orphic painting by Robert Delaunay, while Study for Exhibition Halls, 1986, tackles more practical, spatial problems. Similarly varied approaches to space and form characterize Richter’s use of watercolor and ink washes, which are by turns diluted and dense. The simulated windows of 17 Seascapes, 1969, evoke an entire catalogue of effects between sea and sky with a striking economy of means.

The range of these works, in addition to the occasionally characteristic tropes spotted therein, begs the question of how works on paper served Richter’s more prodigious painterly corpus. Or did they? Many of these examples bear the exhilarating whiff of autonomy– as if they were ends in their own right. Perhaps one aspect that underscores Richter’s wider practice is his productive use of erasure. Many of the works––including Drawing II, 2005, and the smaller 27.4.1999––link different quadrants of the image not by building up line, but by rubbing out and smudging.