Gerhard Richter

Zerynthia, Associazione Per L'Arte Contemporanea

This show of new, never-before-exhibited works by Gerhard Richter inaugurated a new international cultural space in Rome, sponsored by the Cassa di Risparmio di Puglia. The show consisted of seven large paintings, one small photograph retouched with paint, and a sphere of polished aluminum, placed on the floor, and was entitled “Montagne” (Mountains). Richter’s interest in this natural occurrence (distant, majestic, and in a certain sense already a “painting in itself”) has become a regular feature of his work since his 1981 series of Swiss mountain landscapes.

The seven paintings, created specifically for this exhibition, employ the same technique as Richter’s series, “Abstrakte Bilder” (Abstract paintings, begun in 1976). The image is actually constructed: Richter uses a spatula to apply the color to the canvas, creating one layer over another, but at the same time he scrapes away and removes the paint from some of the surface areas. The rhythm that supports this technique is based on this double operation of accumulation and subtraction, stratification and diminution. The process by which these paintings slowly come to light—Richter often spends months on a single canvas—is fully and immediately clear in the image. All the later phases of his technical procedure are resolved on the supporting place.

The mountains of the show’s title are evoked by the small photograph “corrected” by some white, milky brushstrokes that invade the image. They are also recalled by the vertical stripes that punctuate the paintings’ surfaces, giving a sense of majesty, of severity, of indifference to what surrounds them. The magma of superimposed colors (a sort of cool informal painting, completely nonexpressionist, nonpsychological, but seen through the lens of a camera), the blotches, the abrasions, the brush and spatula strokes thus acquire a sort of iterative order, that of a geometric cage. This movement toward a certain formal absolute was stressed by the presence of the shiny aluminum sphere located on the floor, a symbol of ideal, Platonic perfection. Thus the paintings occupy an area—both technical and mental—characterized by control and chance, by the verification of a methodology, and an openness to the aleatory dimension of creation. In his entire oeuvre, which now stretches over a thirty year span, Richter has always been interested in the objectivity of the photographic medium, in the mechanical rendering of reality.

These canvases have the optical sheen of a photograph; the chromatic magma that surfaces in the image seems to be kept at a distance. Yet at the same time, Richter has the capacity to make us feel what it’s like to be within the paint, to experience that stratification and progressive, controlled removal of stains, abrasions, signs, and chromatic “events.” It is as if we ourselves, the viewers, were part of it, as if we, apparently contemplating from without, had participated in the work’s formation. It is as if the very phenomena that occur in reality are not simply arranged “in front of” us, but pass right through us, in a continuous, transforming flow of concrete presences and of mental projections. With these paintings, Richter is also referring to a type of philosophical or at least conceptual reflection which deals with the meaning of vision, of the very act of seeing, with the optical relationship that we establish with the outer world.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore