Gerhard Richter: Panorama
February 12, 2012 - May 13, 2012
Neue Nationalgalerie

Duration February 12, 2012 - May 13, 2012

Location New National Gallery

The exhibition was made possible by the Friends of the National Gallery.

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On February 9, 2012, Gerhard Richter celebrated his 80th birthday. In honor of one of the most important contemporary artists, whom the British daily newspaper The Guardian dubbed “Picasso of the 21st century” in 2004, the National Gallery is showing the comprehensive retrospective Gerhard Richter: Panorama in collaboration with the Tate Modern in London and the Center Pompidou in Paris .

The term panorama comes from Greek and consists of a combination of the words “everything” and “see”. In German usage it has established itself as a synonym for panoramic view or circumspection, for a clear view over 360 degrees. When you look around, what you see is revealed in a connection between time and movement. Not just one view is perceived, but rather many views that combine into a single unit over the course of the panoramic view. Accordingly, the exhibition on the upper floor of the Neue Nationalgalerie is designed as a wide view and unfolds in spacious, open spaces. Around 140 paintings and five sculptures, which were selected in close collaboration with the artist, provide an insight into Richter's complex work, which he created over five decades.

The exhibition is laid out chronologically. This makes what is special about Gerhard Richter's work obvious. This specialness lies, on the one hand, in the much-discussed simultaneity of abstract and figurative works, and on the other hand, it lies in the interplay of repetition and change that is revealed in the chronological sequence of the works. So we consciously decided against organizing according to topics or styles. Such a concept would actually hide what is special about Richter's work, as it separates things that are stylistically or thematically disparate, even if they were created at the same time. In the Neue Nationalgalerie, on the other hand, a panorama opens up to you in which figurative representations stand next to abstract color experiments, old master-like landscapes, seascapes and portraits next to city views that - in their gestural dissolution - are hardly recognizable as such. The famous vanitas motifs such as candles and skulls appear in close proximity to expressive, complex abstractions.

At one point, however, we break our guideline of chronology: When you enter the museum and the exhibition, your first glance will not be the painting Table from 1962, which is the first work mentioned in Richter's catalog raisonné. Rather, you are initially surrounded by the large-format abstract squeegee paintings that define Richter's recent work. In our exhibition, the panorama of the artistic development process unfolds from this sphere of the present, before finally returning to this present at the end of the tour.

Gerhard Richter, born in Dresden in 1932, studied mural painting at the art academy in his hometown and quickly received his first commissions in the still young GDR. In 1959, a visit to documeta II in Kassel, led by Werner Haftmann, was a key experience for him. He was deeply impressed by abstract works by Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana. “This impudence! I was very fascinated and very affected by it. I could almost say that these pictures were the real reason for leaving the GDR. I noticed that something was wrong with my way of thinking," Richter recalled in 1986. In the spring of 1961, just a few months before the Wall was built, Richter left the GDR with his wife Ema and finally reached Düsseldorf via West Berlin. However, Richter - even later, when he taught as a professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1971 to 1993 - by no means followed the developments dominant in the West in a straight line. The radicalism that Richter appreciated in the works of Pollock and Fontana or in the artistic approach of the Fluxus scene of the early 1960s did not become his own path. He counteracted the progressive tendencies towards “breaking boundaries” in art with the traditional medium of painting and remained true to painting even where he explored its limits. With as much mischievousness as seriousness, he confronted great artists such as Marcel Duchamp and, for example, with Ema (Nude on a Staircase) from 1966, contradicted Duchamp's famous dissection of painting in the nude descending a staircase from 1912.

Richter also responded in his own unique way to the increasing dominance of photography in contemporary art production. In the early 1960s he began making the photo paintings that are characteristic of his work. The basis is photographs, mostly from magazines or family albums, which the artist transfers enlarged to the canvas and is subsequently obscured by smudging the still wet oil paint. The subjects and people portrayed as if covered by a veil, mostly in gray tones, such as Richter's aunt Marianne, who - suffering from schizophrenia - died in an institution for the mentally ill as part of the National Socialist euthanasia program, or the doctor Mr. Heyde, who worked in this program, who hanged himself in his prison cell in 1964, are essentially memories. Instead of clearly defining their motive or even commenting critically, Richter reproduces his models in a way that points to the conditionality and limitations of pictorial representation as well as his own inability to convey truth. This reflection on the cultural conditions and meanings of images, which underlies the entire work, represents the inner connection of Richter's panorama. Beyond its obvious diversity, it proves to be a profound investigation of the means and critical examination of the possibilities of current art production. In Richter's own words, it is an "attempt to test the possibility of what painting can and is allowed to do."

One of the questions that Richter dealt with throughout the decades was the relationship between painting and reality. In addition to the representational images already mentioned, non-representational works have been created since the 1960s - initially color fields that were inspired by color plates from the art supplies store. These lead to random arrangements of colored squares, which include, for example, Richter's window design for Cologne Cathedral and the work 4900 Colors. Version I of a total of eleven variants of this work was realized for the first time on the occasion of the Berlin exhibition. It runs around the entire exhibition as a band of 196 square enamel fields arranged in a random sequence.

Richter's intensive preoccupation with gray in all shades was not limited to his figurative photo paintings, but led to a diverse exploration of monochrome painting in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, Richter broke away from color reduction. The artist creates colorful, gesturally abstract works of mostly large format, for which the artist increasingly uses a squeegee - a large slider or spatula that is drawn across the damp surface of the picture. The finished pictures have several image levels that interlock through the mixing, shifting and tearing of the layers of paint applied one on top of the other in a way that the artist can only control to a limited extent.

Richter's questioning of the medium of painting, which he pursued over five decades, turns out to be neither the starting point nor the end point of his work. Rather, it forms the conceptual basis of his work. The exhibition Gerhard Richter: Panorama demonstrates this and also shows how reflection on painting consequently leads to its transgression. The image as a surface, as a field of vision and perspective leads to Richter's artistic examination of mirrors and glass panes. Similar to the curtain and cloud paintings painted in deceptive illusionism, these enter into a dialogue with the surrounding architecture of Mies van der Rohe, which in turn focuses on the view as a perspective and the question of what is before and behind, what is inside and what is outside. Similar to the white canvas that Richter considers to be the perfect image, his glass panes and mirrors point to the infinity of possible representations and the simultaneous limitation of what can be represented.

In addition to the panorama in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Gerhard Richter's most famous cycle can be seen in the Alte Nationalgalerie: the 15-part work October 18, 1977 from 1988. Embedded in the history painting of the 19th century, this series of paintings recalls the terrorist activities that culminated in the German Autumn the RAF and the domestic political crisis of the Federal Republic. Around ten years after the night of death in Stuttgart-Stammheim mentioned in the title, Richter seems to be working on the images he took from Spiegel and Stern. But by depicting the predominantly dead protagonists and associated evidence, Richter not only recalls the events of the night of October 18, 1977. Rather, he also outlines the complexity of the overall social situation in which the drama of RAF terrorism took place and addresses the paralysis of the young democracy in the face of its threat as well as the missed historical opportunity for a maturation process. Last but not least, Richter also draws attention to the fact that this drama cannot be represented. His cycle is about failure – also that of the painter and painting.