Sold for £2,449,250 at the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 10 October 2012.
“It’s not that I’m always thinking about how to make something timeless, it’s more of a desire to maintain a certain artistic quality that moves us, that goes beyond what we are, and that is, in that sense, timeless.” - Gerhard Richter
“Art is the highest form of hope.” - Gerhard Richter
“A lot of people find other mediums more attractive – put a screen in a museum and nobody wants to look at paintings any more. But painting is my profession, because it has always been the thing that interested me most. And now I’m of a certain age, I come from a different tradition and, in any case, I can’t do anything else. I’m still very sure that painting is one of the most basic human capacities, like dancing and singing, that makes sense, that stays with us, as something human.” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Nicolas Serota, Sprint 2011, quoted in M. Godfrey and N. Serota, eds., Gerhard Richter | Panorama, London, 2011, p. 15)
Abstraktes Bild, painted in 1977, belongs to a body of work by Gerhard Richter known as Soft Abstracts in which the artist explores the idea of a ‘blown-up’, the enlarged, zoomed-in image that is familiar from examining a painting up close or inspecting the surface through a magnifying glass. The artist projected enlarged photographs of variously coloured brushstrokes and copied the images onto the canvases creating abstract images as a result. The Soft Abstracts series was a continuation of Details, an earlier series of works made in 1970, in which Richter painted details of thick oil paint, extrapolating them in size to fill the large canvases.
The effect of the blown-up image in Abstraktes Bild is not simply the increase in size, but the transformation of the identity of the initial reference image and the subsequent impact on the viewer. Richter explains the objective of the enlargement in a letter to Benjamin Buchloh in the same year the present lot was created: “The outsize Blown-Up, which allows you to cheat, is for the time being the only form that can make real and comprehensible the ‘message’ that I want to present as fascinatingly as possible” (M. Godfrey, N. Serota, ed., Gerhard Richter | Panorama, p. 126). The Soft Abstracts were a bridge towards his later ‘free’ abstract paintings at which point the artist had ceased to use photographs as a starting point and began to employ a squeegee to drag the paint across the surface creating giant brushstrokes.
In Abstraktes Bild, Richter uses pastel blues and yellows to create soft geometrical shapes that flow in and out of each other resulting in a fluid composition of immense atmospheric quality, half way between a landscape painting and an abstraction. The present lot evokes Richter’s cloud and seascape paintings from the late 1960s and early 1970s (which predated the Detail paintings), yet it still remains highly abstract. There is an interesting ambiguity apparent here, too, between this abstraction and the mechanical enlargement of the ‘figurative’ source image from which the final image is derived. In fact, the abstract and the figurative have lived alongside each other throughout Richter’s oeuvre, and have done so since his first photo-realist works of the early 1960s.
It is by processes such as this that Richter has consistently challenged traditional approaches to painting and that have made him one of the most important painters of the past 50 years. From his early series of photo-realist black-and-white paintings, where he uses just shades of grey, through his Colour Charts to his Abstract Paintings, of which the present lot is such a beautiful example, Richter has redefined painting for the present age.
“Abstract paintings are fictitious models because they visualize a reality, which we can neither see nor describe, but which we may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality; the un-known, the un-graspable, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted it in terms of substitute images live heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can be neither seen nor understood.” (Gerhard Richter, in Gerhard Richter: Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1988, p. 107)
Nicolas de Staël
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Plegaria muda - Doris Salcedo, 2012