The relationship between painting and photography lies at the heart of Gerhard Richter’s practice, from paintings made from found photographs to photographs of paintings made from, yes, photographs, this is territory Richter has explored more thoroughly and from more directions than perhaps any other artist. The Detail paintings, started in 1970, explore the nature of painting and the way in which we so often experience the complexity of the painted surface rendered smooth as a photographic surface. In these paintings, Richter has taken small details from paintings made with a heavy impasto and reproduced these, massively enlarged, as smooth painted surfaces. In Detail (Red-blue) a small area of heavily textured paint is represented as a three metre wide painting.
The end of summer is in sight and everything is starting afresh. It might sound odd, but Autumn always feels like the start of something new to me. Certainly, it’s the time of year when my thoughts turn to what to show a new intake of students. Some things don’t change much of course, but there are always works I’ve come across recently (many of them probably written about here already) or things I know well but now want to talk about differently. I’ll need to get my art history hat on pretty soon but before that I get to show a random selection of art to help get some ideas going and, with luck, defy a few expectations and destroy some preconceptions. All of which means that in a way I’m quite surprised to find myself trawling through Gerhard Richter’s Overpainted Photographs, but it’s a body of work that somehow always seems relevant.
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.
Taking a last look at Gerhard Richter: Panorama at Tate Modern, which finishes tomorrow, I was struck, as at previous visits, by the large, predominantly white, abstract painting in the final room of the main show. The white of the painting makes it feel like a large, snowy landscape at once charming me and reminding me that this winter has so far failed to bite.
The traces of colour coming through the white make me think of Peter Doig’s Ski Jacket, a painting of a similar size and somewhat similar palette, though Doig’s painting makes much more use of colour. (It also reminds me of Wilhelm Sasnal’s Photophobia though that lacks scale by comparison.)
Panorama, Gerhard Richter’s exhibition at Tate Modern, includes so many show-stoppingly great works – Aunt Marianne and Uncle Rudi (the juxtaposition of which I wrote about for MostlyFilm.com), the paintings of Richter’s daughter Betty, squeegee paintings both large and small to name but a few – that it’s a surprise when something quieter, seemingly simpler, works its way under my skin. But two rural landscapes, both painted in the mid-1980s, did just that. I was reminded of the time I spent with Barn and Meadowland last weekend at the Whitechapel Gallery when Wilhelm Sasnal’s rather larger argricultural lanscape Pigsty grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go.