The title of Gerhard Richter’s exhibition was “Painting 2012,” yet there was no paint in sight. Instead, Richter, further adding to his plethora of techniques, presented large-scale digital prints bearing variegated horizontal stripes (or “strips,” as he calls them) of vibrant color that whiz across the surface like the view from a Lamborghini at 200 miles per hour.
The stripe configuration is not systematic, but the result of a partly random process. With not enough time to paint while preparing for his recent European retrospective, Richter turned to the computer, running a digital photo of one of his 1990 “scraped” paintings through software that essentially deconstructed it, dividing, mirroring and repeat- ing ever-reduced sections until the image was distilled to its chromatic essence. The formalist in Richter then took over, organizing the linear segments into unique compositions, 18 in this exhibition, ranging in size from moderate (20 by 56 inches) to monumental: 6 feet high and nearly 20 feet long, the largest bisected with minute vertical seams. All the prints are mounted between Plexiglas and aluminum.
The smaller pieces, with their distracting white borders and conventional wood frames, are elegant but hardly earth-shattering. On a grand scale, however, in compositions left unframed, the stripes gain cumulative energy; here the work overcomes its technological origins and hard, flat surface to become as vigorous as the best Abstract Expressionism. The eye, unable to rest, is drawn from one area to another, and standing up close, trying unsuccessfully to focus on a single line, one can almost hear a buzz. Each piece has a distinct character, but the general sense—not surprising, given the horizontal format—is of extruded landscape, vibrating with color. Richter’s masterful calibration of random elements with compositional intent prevents the work from falling into the realm of the decorative, and keeps it alive.
In the center of the rear gallery was a stainless steel structure roughly 9 feet high and wide, holding vertical panes of glass spaced around a foot apart. Titled 6 Panes of Glass in a Rack and dated 2002-11, it was the crux around which everything else in the show revolved. The glass panes reflected, multiplied and blurred the artworks on the walls around them, as well as visitors passing by on the other side of the structure. When either the viewer or others glimpsed through the panes moved, colors seemed to run together, making the reflected stripe works appear as if part of Rich- ter’s series of gray scraped canvases. Meanwhile the people, now fuzzy and distorted, were transformed into animations of his early paintings from photographs.
There is no reason to assume that Richter’s exhibition title is ironic, a comment on the viability of using actual paint in a technological age, or that he is in any way “skeptical”—as other critics have suggested. Richter has always employed photography, has always reconfigured his work and manipulated it. When he said, in a 1984 interview, that “painting is intrinsically capable of giving visible form to our best, most human, most humane qualities,” he probably was not talking about technique. Even his sculpture is about painting.
Photo: Gerhard Richter: 919 Strip, 2012, digital print mounted between Aludibond and Diasec, 78 3/4 by 86 5⁄8 inches; at Marian Goodman.