Gerhard Richter At 80 London Retrospective

Gerhard Richter

Tate Modern plays host to ‘Panorama’ mapping 50 years of work

On 6 October Tate Modern will open its doors on to a major retrospective exhibition of the work of Gerhard Richter – one of the most important painters of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Coinciding with Richter’s 80th birthday and containing paintings from a period of some 50 years, Panorama is set to map out the most significant moments of his career, including examples of his realist ‘photo-paintings’, abstractions, landscapes, colour charts, works on paper, mirrors and three glass constructions.

Alongside his celebrated 1988 ‘October 18 1977’ – a sequence of black and white paintings based on photographs of dead members of the Baader-Meinhof gang, a group of terrorists who committed suicide in 1977 after an attempted plane hi-jacking had failed – will be some of his most recent work, the exhibition culminating in ‘September 2005’, a painting of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the NYC World Trade Centre. Similar breadth of Richter’s abstract works will be on show, the exhibition including: his 1974 colour chart made up of 4096 different coloured squares; his 1980 20-metre long ‘Stroke’, presented outside Germany for the very first time; the richly coloured 1990 ‘Forest’ squeegee paintings; as well as his 2006 six-part series ‘Cage’ on long loan to Tate.

Born in Dresdon in 1932, Gerhard Richter moved to West Germany from the East before the erection of the Berlin Wall. Settling in Dusseldorf, he had had the ‘Socialist Realist’ modes of his early education challenged by exposure to Fluxus’ anti-formalist ethos, and ‘Pop’ works by the likes of Lichtenstein and Warhol. In the 1960s, Richter had begun to use photographs as ready-made objects – often working from family snapshots but also appropriating media images –, creating realist ‘photo-paintings’ that simulated photography, but also converted the photographic into the painterly, the real into the hyper-real. Existing at the threshold of painting and photography, these works questioned the status of both media, examining the loss of painting’s public function in the light of photography’s usurpation of the recording process.

Richter was notable for being one of the first German artists to reflect on their then-recent national history, explicitly addressing National Socialism by painting the portraits of both those who had been members as well as victims of the Nazi party. Richter’s practice, however, is perhaps most remarkable for its diversity. Simultaneous to his realist photo works, he produced abstract paintings that were concerned (in his own words) with the ‘transcendental’ or ‘inexplicable’. And ultimately, it is Richter’s variedness that makes Panorama such an exciting prospect. The opportunity to see the full extent of this artist’s innovative exploration of painting since the 1960s is one not to be missed.

Words/ Thomas Keane © ArtLyst 2011  Exhibition runs  7 October  2011 -8 January 2012  Visit Exhibition