Entries in capitalist realism (1)
Gerhard Richter's Panorama at Tate Modern (on until the 8th of January) is a retrospective of the artist's monumental body of work. The work fills an astounding 14 rooms in the gallery, which is no mean feat, especially considering that the artist is still creating work today.
Each room showcases a particular painting style of Richter's, displaying an array of techniques and ideas. He has said of his multifaceted approach to working, "I hate repeating myself; it gives me no pleasure whatsoever. Once I've understood something, I need to start off on new ground."
Richter's rich collection of work includes landscapes, portraits, and still lives as well as abstractions, glass sculptures, mirrors and metal spheres, all somehow entering into one central dialogue with one another. Each room has its own atmosphere, and walking from room to room the viewer becomes aware of the enormous depth and variety in Richter's ideas and methods.
Richter's career began in the 1960s, when his main focus was experimenting with painting from photography, as well as addressing Germany’s history of National Socialism and the trappings of modern 1960s life. Reflecting this, upon entrance the exhibition showcases black and white canvases of painted photographs from magazines, war imagery and the commodities of domestic life. In these works, he renders his perception of reality as devoid of colour, "because all the newspapers, the daily diet of photographic material, including television, was black and white, and the photo albums and photography itself – all of it was black and white."
What follows in the fourth room is a juxtaposition of grey and colour chart-style canvases. The latter (evocative of 1960s pop art) reflect the range of colours represented in 1960s products, advertisements and packaging, addressing the kind of late 60s consumerism that Richter found himself faced with. These canvases could be described as examples of the Capitalist Realism movement. The greys, on the other hand, indicate an absence of association and opinion, a bleak prospect; Richter comments on the memory of the horror and misery of WWII concentration camps.
Richter continuously questions realism in painting, as proven by some of the responses he produced to other artists’ works. The painting of ‘Ema’ is an antagonistic reaction to Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a staircase’. Whereas Duchamp presents a very mechanical, de-eroticised image shrouded in cubist confinement, Richter opposes this certain kind of painting by producing a ‘conventional nude’ and painting it from a photograph, rendering this a strangely impersonal piece. ‘Ema’ appears to be illuminated by a blur, giving an air of mystery.
Many of Richter’s works are painted from photography and ooze blurry mysticism. This poses questions about vision in contemplation, and whether perception enables or confuses our understanding of the world, as he claims: ‘I can make no statement about reality clearer than my own relationship to reality; and this has a great deal to do with imprecision, uncertainty, transience, incompleteness, or whatever.’ These blurry paintings appear again and again, from room to room, exhibiting Richter’s ongoing dialogue with rightness and truth.
‘Stuhl im Profil’ (Stool in Profile) also recalls Joseph Beuys’ ‘Fettstuhl’ (Fat Chair). Beuys’ work utilises symbolism and has a sense of sincerity communicated through the natural materials he collates, as well as opposing society's concept of 'art' by counteracting aesthetic pleasure. Richter however painted a chair that belonged to him, uncovering the daily banality of life – a challenge to reconsider the fundamental function of objects.
As well as responding to various modern works of art, Richter reinterprets classical mastership, resurrecting it in a kind of contemporary renaissance. Ranging from romanticist ideas in his seascapes to works with religious connotations in Annunciation and Cloud Triptych, Richter alludes to the original works of Caspar David Friedrich, Titian and Vermeer, inviting us to reevaluate the meaning of their concepts in the context of the modern world.
Richter’s abstract work begins to question the concept of storytelling itself. The ‘War Cut’ – a book made from newspaper cut-outs juxtaposed with his abstract painting - debates the power of representation, implying that the way texts and images influence each other may change their meaning altogether. In this instance, the text assigns symbolism to non-representational images. Similarly the Cage Paintings series, produced by a process of layering and erasing, make no allusion to realism. The subject no longer counts and the compositions of paint and colour become the subject in itself. These gigantic palettes embody the idea ‘I have nothing to say and I’m saying it’ (John Cage, 1989) and propose a re-imagining of the world as seen by Richter, unlike traditional notions of representation in painting. They seem almost mathematical in their construction, as if being executed to a colour algorithm, constantly diverging and converging in jagged frequency.
Posted by Kristina