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Gerhard Richter’s Betty

I TAKE IT that my task here is to select a single work that has provided me particularly deep pleasure in recent years, and propose it as an emblem of contemporary art. It’s an assignment at which anyone with the usual broad range of enthusiasms would balk, as one might balk at a similar exercise with regard to, say, cities, or close friends. But beyond simple indecisiveness, I find it inherently paradoxical.

The difficulty begins with this: that the very idea of a definitive gesture, or even a typical one, is contrary to the ambitions of the art of our time. The best we have is made with a kind of contingency that, either explicitly or by example, rejects the purpose of a masterpiece; so to elevate any one work above all others would be to belie much of what there is to see in any of them. There are no movements to be championed, or paradigms to be elected; there is no air of inevitability

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