Riotous Response To Gerhard Richter Berlin Retrospective

Tate Modern

Panorama opens in Berlin the day after Richter’s 80th Birthday, with artist’s tour having to be cancelled thanks to thronging photographers

Gerhard Richter’s monumental and critically-acclaimed retrospective Panorama at the Tate has just opened at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie – the day after his his 80th birthday. This coincides with a major resurgence in popularity of the German painter in his native country, thanks to a series of exhibitions and lectures in Berlin and Dresden (the city of his birth), this year, taking place in honour of his birthday.

So much so that planned walk-through of the exhibition by the artist space had to be cancelled after he was mobbed by dozens of paparazzi photographers. The exhibition, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, includes around 130 paintings and five sculptures, featuring both his abstract and figurative works and will be open to the Berlin public from Sunday, 12 February, to 13 May 2012. Then it will move once again, onto the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

When at Tate Modern we hailed it as one of the most exciting and significant  exhibitions of recent years – a testament to the incredible versatility and scope of this key artist. Panorama reveals that, unlike most of his contemporaries, there is no ‘typical’ Richter, first and foremost due to the way in which he switches freely between mediums. Although he works primarily with paint, on display also, are mirrors, drawings, photographs, glass-works and sculptures. In his material eclecticism, Richter challenges the separation between these mediums, most prominently between painting and photography. In the first room, for example, we were shown his photo-paintings from the 1960s which exist at the threshold between painting and photography, and question our understanding of both media in light of the challenge to painting by photography.
The epiphany of this retrospective is that it debunks the myth of Richter as two artists – the abstract painter and the photo-realist. Despite the curatorial emphasis on difference (the delicate portrait of his daughter Betty, for instance, juxtaposed against its polar extreme – the monolithic ‘Yellow-green’), there is a constant engagement with the question of representation, so that there is not an opposition between the abstract and the real, but rather a dialogue. This dialectic is all-pervasive: what appears to be an enormous abstract painting, for example, is in fact a representation of a photograph depicting the close-up texture of paint pigment. Similarly, many of his ‘squeegee’ works – the abstract product of pure chance – seem to have geographical depth and space; some even appear to possess the grain of photo film. In this way, the ‘abstract’ and the ‘real’ are united in Richter.


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