View of “Gerhard Richter,” 2011. Wall, from left: STRIP, 2011; STRIP, 2011; STRIP, 2011. Foreground: 6 Standing Glass Panes, 2002/2011.

View of “Gerhard Richter,” 2011. Wall, from left: STRIP, 2011; STRIP, 2011; STRIP, 2011. Foreground: 6 Standing Glass Panes, 2002/2011.

Gerhard Richter

View of “Gerhard Richter,” 2011. Wall, from left: STRIP, 2011; STRIP, 2011; STRIP, 2011. Foreground: 6 Standing Glass Panes, 2002/2011.

The introduction of digital processes into the practice of painting inevitably raises questions. Has the Very New irrevocably transformed and indeed usurped the Very Old? Or is the celebratory hype surrounding new media simply the latest installment of the technological triumphalism that has periodically punctuated the history of modern art ever since the invention of photography?

The five large digital prints that make up Gerhard Richter’s series “Strip,” 2011, inserted themselves directly into this debate. The works were intense. Consisting entirely of horizontal bands of vibrant color under a layer of Lucite, they could be looked at only for several seconds before the lines began to pulse and your eyes began to hurt. One might have said that they resemble a scrambled television signal, but that would be misleading: The technology underlying their creation is that of the computer program, not broadcasting.

To generate each print, an image of one of the artist’s earlier abstractions (Abstract Painting, 1990) was first subjected to a series of vertical divisions, yielding 8,190 colored strips that were each then flipped over and over again until the accumulated mirror reversals extended across the whole horizontal extent of the rectangle. The patterns developed from the first cuts resembled multicolored Rorschach inkblots that, due to the larger width of the earliest divisions, folded out like an accordion. By the end of the process, the width of the cuts was so infinitesimal that the mirror effect was no longer visible to the naked eye. Instead, it appeared as if the original slice had simply been pulled and extended laterally, like taffy. It was exclusively these strips from the very end of the process that were used to make “Strip.” There is something almost absurd, even cruel, about subjecting one’s own work to the brutal abstraction of digitalization. If one were looking for yet another death knell for painting, this would surely qualify.

One of the great merits of the show, however, was to demonstrate that the use of the digital is less revolutionary breakthrough than highly mediated historical intervention. It is hard not to think here of the procedure already at work in Richter’s color charts of the 1960s. Back then it was ready-made industrial paint that furnished newfangled chromatic arrays. Now it is the digital image that provides the color code. One thinks of the computer-generated designs found everywhere from the latest home decor to the new upholstery of the Paris Métro.

Reminding us of historical alternatives to the procedures enabled by the digital realm, the exhibition also featured “Perizade,” 2010, a set of twelve small paintings made with paint sandwiched between panes of glass and Dibond. These were a kind of antidote to “Strip.” Whereas “Strip” is brutal and mechanical, “Perizade” is an almost microscopic examination of the delightful pictorial accidents that occur when pools of paint randomly flow together. The paintings are sensual in the way we normally expect paintings to be. Or almost. The splashy colors may invite looking, but the transparent casing behind which they are sealed off diverts one’s gaze to the reflections bouncing off the glass—here, transient glimpses of the room and of oneself as well as of the only other work in the exhibition, the sculpture 6 Standing Glass Panes, 2002/2011, situated in the middle of the gallery. Presented with the part Rorscharch stains, part laboratory slides of “Perizade,” you felt as if you were looking at both the expressionistic gesture’s resurrection and its autopsy. One wonders if by pairing this work with “Strip,” Richter was not also suggesting that the digital image must eventually suffer the same fate.

Paul Galvez