Meeting Gerhard Richter

Adrian Searle talks to the German visual artist about his work
gerhard-richter
Gerhard Richter
G

erhard Richter and I circle the seven big of sheets of glass that lean together in the middle of the ground floor of Marian Goodman’s elegant new London gallery. Richter’s House of Cards is all edges and transparent planes, reaching towards the ceiling and held together by small steel clamps. It looks precarious and dangerous. Reflections of the strip lights overhead skitter across the clear surfaces. We meet our own reflections there, too.

Now 82, Richter is spry and alert, a dignified yet amiable man looking at his own work with a kind of curiosity in this spanking new gallery, designed for the veteran New York dealer by David Adjaye. Goodman and Richter are friends, and he has been showing at her galleries in New York and Paris for decades. The artist had been thinking about the sculpture of Richard Serra when he made House of Cards, and also of Caspar David Friedrich’s 1823-4 Sea of Ice (also known as The Wreck of Hope), a painting of jumbled arctic ice floes. German romanticism seems far from Richter’s art, but like much else, it’s in there somewhere, reflected, removed, distanced.

“And our times are so … unquiet”

The complications of his recent work are given full rein in this show. “In 60 years you can do a lot,” Richter tells me, “And our times are so … unquiet,” he says, searching for the word. Over a career of almost 60 years, Richter has made an enormous variety of works, moving between abstraction and portraiture, landscape and a kind of history painting. Among it all are monochromes and paintings of his family, paintings of the suicide and murders of the Baader Meinhof gang, and of the burning Twin Towers. The world does not pass him by. “We react and we no longer have a tradition to support us,” he says. “Globalisation makes things fragment, but also brings them closer.”

Here, as well as the glass sculpture, he is showing solemn grey diptychs, and photographs of landscapes, overpainted with smudges and flecks of colour “harvested” from the residues of paint left over from his large, squeegee’d abstractions. There are wild and lurid “Flow” paintings on glass, and a major series of printed, digital works, the largest 10 metres across, consisting entirely of eye-rocking coloured stripes.

Glass also covers the mute grey Double-Grey painted panels. Trying to look more closely at the greys, the reflections keep you at bay, resisting a close inspection. But you can tell that the tonal values, warmth and coolness of these greys are not the same.
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Forty years ago, Richter says, he built a narrow corridor and on one wall he hung a grey painting and opposite, a mirror. “They looked at each other,” he says, “And you couldn’t go in.” He created an illusion of a painting that didn’t need a spectator. “I have a wonderful recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, played by Andras Schiff. A writer said that this was so good it was the kind of music that doesn’t need us. It is more than we can understand and more than we are. Perhaps this is a wonderful dream, but it is a quality we need. Perhaps I am getting closer … ” In fact, the Double Grey paintings are dedicated to the composer Arvo Pärt. “We tried to make something together. He wrote a composition, and I made these.” [Read More]

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