Gerhard Richter: Retrospective

Sometimes a painting seems to be observing the viewer instead of the other way around. The Gerhard Richter Retrospective seemed to contain alert representatives of some other world instead of a collection of paintings created over the last forty years.

As an artist, I admired such a diverse and plentiful assortment of work. After entering the first room, I realized I would never be able to look at the entire exhibit as much as I wanted; time restrictions disallowed the kind of intense scrutiny that these paintings demanded.

Representation of the natural world is the thread that runs through all of Richter’s works: paintings resemble photography, abstracts resemble landscapes and landscapes contain a mood and gravity unparalleled in the genre.

Richter became best known for his representational paintings that are based on and styled after the photograph. Later, after I had read a collection of his writings, I realized that Richter “blurs” his images to make all of the objects seem equally important, or equally unimportant. But, as he points out, you can’t blur paint, paint is paint.

Photography can be out of focus, however. Herein lies the challenge. Since its 19th century inception, photography has become a medium that creates a strong belief in itself. A photograph exists as proof that something is real. The photo moved beyond mere representation and is now generally accepted as “true”, a document of “reality”. For most people, painting may not be quite so believable. By painting an image based on a not-quite focused photograph, Richter illustrates this discrepancy and presents us with questions about painting and photography.

Which image feels more “true” to us? Which is the “real” representation?

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