I was one of the lucky persons last Sunday at le Centre Pompidou to attend the pre-opening of a survey of five decades of works by Gerhard Richter, the greatest living German painter and the top selling one, according to the prices being fetched in galleries and auction houses. A background of such stardom clouds the necessary objectivity to interact with his art. To make the media buzz red-hot, the documentary film, “Gerhard Richter Painting”, by Corinna Belz is out in theaters providing insight into his manner of painting.
Panorama, as the show is called, does not benefit from a chronological hanging. Richter has been travelling back and forth, from figurative to abstract and back again, breaking any loyalty to a specific genre or style. He experiments with photography, blending the printed image to his paint and disorienting the viewer with a final touch that sometimes is close to hyperrealism and other times sinks into a pictorial fog. (“I blur things to make everything equally important and unimportant”). The viewer internalizes his work quietly at first, and then with an almost hypnotic quivering.
It is nonetheless in his relation to color and paint where his creativity shows signs of a genius at work. His exploration of grey is a challenge resolved so masterly that his consecration could come from just those series. Grey is, in the eyes of many artists, the non-colour and Richter proceeds to interrogate it extracting from it an astonishing range of powerful variations. And it is blending masses of bright colors in oversized canvasses when he erupts really and metaphorically, providing again reason to believe that he is not just painting but engaging in a process of self-discovery.
Richter may be one of the most generous and provocative artists in the contemporary scene. He mirrors us all, going on about our lives, struggling to make sense of the world, and creating startling and deep beauty in the process. This show should not be missed.