Gerhard Richter - Atlas
06 December 2003 - 14 March 2004
One of the world’s most influential living artists, Gerhard Richter has helped re-define contemporary painting. His works of elusive beauty have an underlying conceptual rigour that re-invents traditional genres.
Gerhard Richter – Atlas goes to the heart of the artist’s work, showing over 5,000 photographs, drawings and diagrams he has compiled or created over 40 years. This extraordinary insight into Richter’s working process is presented for the first time in the UK. The exhibition juxtaposes key paintings from defining moments of his career alongside their inspiration and source. Atlas reveals the mind of an artist sifting through his material – selecting, marking and altering images then transferring them onto canvas.
‘In 1962 I found the first outlet; by painting from photos I was relieved from the obligation to choose and construct a subject’ (Richter). Having left East Germany in 1961, where he had established a reputation as a realist painter, Richter attended the Dusseldorf Academy and struck out on a radical new path. He looked to photography as a way of releasing painting from the political and symbolic burdens of Socialist Realism or Abstract Expressionism. From pictures of family and friends to images from the mass media, Richter’s photographs – sometimes found, sometimes his own work – have provided the basis for many of his paintings. These images re-emerge in a luminous, monochrome palette falling ambiguously between documentary and history painting.
Gerhard Richter is also renowned for his engagement with abstraction. ‘Abstract pictures…illustrate (the) un-known, in-conceivable, in-finite, and for millennia we portrayed them… as heaven, hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we created for ourselves a better possibility of approaching what is non-visual and incomprehensible...’ (Richter).
The encyclopaedic range of Atlas can also be seen as a reflection of recent German history, from the ‘unpaintable’ photographs of the concentration camps to images of the Baader Meinhof to a commission to inaugurate a new Reichstag for a united Germany.
Gerhard Richter - Atlas maps the ideas, processes, life and times of one of the most important painters of the late 20th Century.