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Gerhard Richter Survey at City Gallery Wellington

Gerhard Richter Survey City Gallery Wellington 12 October – 1 December 2002

Image courtesy of Betty Gerhard Richter, 1991 (III/V), Offset 97 X 66 cm Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Germany

Gerhard Richter is one of the world’s most revered and influential living painters. In a career stretching over four decades, this German artist has reasserted the power and vitality of painting within contemporary culture. Writes Museum of Modern Art, New York curator Robert Storr:

Few artists of the post-war era have absorbed so much of [painting’s] reality into their pictures, dismantled and reconfigured so many of modernism’s aesthetic conventions, or registered so many of its moods.

Gerhard Richter himself selected the work exhibited in Survey. While the exhibition contains work from across the artist’s oeuvre—from the photo-paintings that brought him to major international attention in the 1960s to his later gestural abstractions—it does not claim to represent the full breadth of the artist’s career. Rather, the exhibition provides an opportunity to survey how Richter has experimented with a wide variety of media, styles and processes to explore the relationship between subjective engagement and objective distance.

Gerhard Richter’s principal subject is painting itself. His work has continually challenged the nature of representation, addressing the importance of stylistic consistency and artistic creativity, and the relationship of other media to traditional painting methods. Reflecting this, Survey includes not only paintings in a variety of styles and on different surfaces—from paper to glass to plywood—but also photographs of liquid paint (Ophelia and Guildenstern), photographic views of a painting (128 Photographs from a Picture), and painting directly onto a photographic print (Kassel).

Richter is particularly known for his use of photography as a foundation for his work. This exhibition includes prints and photographs Richter has recently produced of his own paintings that were themselves originally based on photographs. Uncle Rudi, for example, is a photographic print of a picture Richter painted of his uncle in 1965. Works like these are taken back to their original photographic model by means of technical reproduction, whilst retaining many of the hand-produced qualities gained through painting. These new versions acquire a distanced quality, continuing Richter’s play with the way different artistic processes affect our emotional and intellectual engagement with a subject.

Richter’s reluctance to limit himself in terms of style, content and process stems in part from his own personal history. Born in Dresden in 1932, he spent the first 16 years of his life living under East German Communism before moving to West Germany in 1961. Richter began his art training in the East, but exchanged the conservative painting tradition of the German Democratic Republic for the burgeoning Pop and conceptual art culture of early ’60s Western Europe. This change in artistic environment produced a radical shift in his art and has seen him maintain a distance from identification with one singular art movement or style ever since. Survey is a touring exhibition presented by Germany’s Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural Affairs) in co-operation with the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes Wellington.

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