This massive five-room show by Gerhard Richter delivered all the gravitas of a museum survey, even as it afforded viewers intimate moments of pure visual delight—an opportunity, in effect, to see Richter’s abstractions afresh. Almost all of the 47 works on view were his familiar painterly abstractions with shrewdly layered chroma. There was also a handful of anomalies (both stylistic and chronological): an opaque, all-gray canvas from 1976; a tiny painting from 2008 of a fence across the street from the artist’s studio; a 2009 C-print on glass (edition of 40) of Richter’s earlier painting of the Twin Towers. Most memorably, a mirror around 5 feet square hung at the tail end of the exhibition like an unexpected punctuation mark: Mirror 2008 (edition of 8). Some of the best paintings in the show were nearby, and none looked as alive, as potent, reflected in that mirror as in real life. Could this have been a comment on the critical apparatus that seems always to accompany Richter—one that, perhaps, allows us too easily to discard the living, breathing experience at hand?
“When confronted with Gerhard Richter’s most recent abstractions, especially the large-scale, almost monochrome, white paintings,” writes Benjamin Buchloh in the catalogue essay, “one instantly feels compelled to pose questions concerning the historical fates of painterly reduction.” Buchloh is referring to works of great sensuousness and tactility that do not feel in the least reductive. All boast deep, sometimes illusionistic spaces; even the “white paintings” resonate with chords of color (warm bottle-green in some, cool gray-blue in others). In this show alone there were groupings of paintings with chromatic changes as diverse as wildflowers in a field, while small works on Aludibond have sleek, smooth surfaces that convey a giddy sense of speed. Richter’s own words from a recent interview in the online publication ArtInfo seem more apt. “I always start these abstract paintings very colorful and very free,” the artist tells interviewer Sarah Douglas. “Everything is possible, there are no rules.”
Still, Fence (2008), a small painting hanging by the elevator door, where it might be easily overlooked, showed Richter continuing to toy with the boundaries between painting and photography. The scene is blurry, but distinct enough to make out. Or is it? One wonders how to read a shadow of alizarin crimson that creeps in from the lower right corner, spreading a rich pool of color across the sunny street. It feels autographic somehow, like a silhouette cast by a photographer who snapped the shutter while the sun was at his back. Fence is a small, but potent, example of Richter’s uncanny ability to make us rethink what’s before our eyes—and enjoy the rethinking.
Photo: Gerhard Richter: 909-6 Abstract Painting, 2009, oil on Aludibond, 585⁄8 by 825⁄8 inches; at Marian Goodman.