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Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting

Gerhard RichterPhoto courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin
Gerhard Richter
Photo courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin
Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting
SAN FRANCISCO  •  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art  •  Ongoing
First seen at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, this exhibition is the first full-scale survey of the paintings of the influential German artist ever mounted in America. The show presents some 200 paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs from every phase of Richter's career, from 1962 to today.

Born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, Richter grew up under National Socialism and lived for another 16 years under East German Communism before moving to West Germany in 1961. Already accomplished as a mural painter, Richter began a radically new phase of his career in the heady artistic milieu that developed around Cologne and Düsseldorf in the 1960s. In that setting he discovered Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Fluxus, and a host of related avant-garde tendencies and formed ties with other artists of his generation, notably Sigmar Polke. Richter, Polke, and their friend Konrad Lueg identified themselves as German Pop artists, but were also briefly proponents of a satirical variant of Pop they called "Capitalist Realism." Richter and his friends viewed the commercial culture of the West from a different perspective than their American and British counterparts as a result of the contrasting economic and political situation in Germany in the immediate postwar era.

Beginning in 1962 with grey-scale paintings that melded newspaper iconography and family snapshots with an austere photography-based realism unlike anything being done by the American Photo-Realists, Richter set his own course through the tangle of "isms" that thrived around him. In the early 1970s, Richter moved on to paint spare monochromes that evoked mainstream Minimalism, but with a significantly different intent and feeling. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richter's brightly colored and boldly delineated canvases suggested but also diverged from the pyrotechnic Neo-Expressionist painting then in full flush. Throughout his career, Richter has cultivated a subtly romantic and seemingly anti-modernist manner in the landscapes and the hauntingly beautiful old master–like portraits he has intermittently produced even as he has pushed abstraction to new levels of visual intensity.

In 1988, Richter produced a startling cycle of 15 black-and-white paintings titled October 18, 1977, based on press photographs of the Baader-Meinhof group—a band of German radicals who died in a Stuttgart prison on that date in tragic and highly controversial circumstances. This group of paintings marks a turning point in Richter's career, which had previously been interpreted as detached and ironic. The most recent work in this exhibition—which has not been widely seen in America—reveals a gentle, occasionally elegiac sensibility despite the abiding critical severity of Richter's painterly identity.

Gerhard Richter currently lives and works in Cologne which has been his home since 1983.

Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting will travel to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (20 February - 18 May 2003).

Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue illustrating the works selected, with an extensive critical essay by the curator.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Web Site

Contact: Tel: (1) 415 357 44 00

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