Gerhard Richter, Six Grey Mirrors, 2003
Of all Gerhard Richter’s work – and his practice is unusually varied – it’s probably his exploration of the relationship between painting and photography that interests me most. But I’d struggle to come up with a body of work by Richter that I don’t like, though I guess the 1980s’ squeegee paintings would probably be on the list if I tried – the colours just don’t work for me – though I love the later squeegee paintings. I’m often unsure quite where I stand when it comes to Richter’s work with mirrors and glass. I like the work, but the paintings are so amazing that the other works can seem irrelevant by comparison. But, like most art, it depends on the context.
Dia:Beacon is an extraordinary place. A former factory converted to display the Dia Art Foundation‘s collection of works from the last half century or so in appropriate surroundings, the industrial architecture is put to good use to provide some unusual and unusually large spaces to show the work. Many of the works housed here can’t easily be accommodated elsewhere. The collection – much of which was acquired in the 1970s and ’80s – contains work by many key late twentieth century artists – primarily but not exclusively American – with industrial scale sculpture particularly well represented; since the 1990s works by other artists of broadly the same generation have been added to the collection including Gerhard Richter’s Six Grey Mirrors.
The mirrors – made of grey enamel, glass and steel, and housed in a space closer to a modernist white cube gallery space than most of the rooms here – are angled to reflect different parts of the space in a slightly confusing way. Though the panels are tilted they sit in what is essentially the vertical plane we expect paintings to inhabit so it is as paintings that we first try to read them. That the image is formed purely by reflection is counter to expectation. Where normally one would expect to try to catch an angle that minimises reflection when looking at work mounted behind glass, here one moves precisely to experience the fullest possible range of reflections.
Dia:Beacon is at 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY 12508. It’d be worth the trip regardless but is made all the more exciting by taking the train from Grand Central Station.