Gerhard Richter, The Cage Paintings (1-6) Robert Storr talks about Gerhard Richter's Cage paintings.
Gerhard Richter, The Cage Paintings (1-6)
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- The Cage Paintings Were First Exhibited At The Venice Bienale 2007.
- Robert Storr Explores The Connections
- In Aysus 2005, to my considerable surprise,
- I was asked to be the director of the Venice Bienale.
- I was surprised because a native-born American
- has never been asked before.
- I tried to think about what kinds of exhibitions
- should be made around the Bienale;
- what kind of exhibition I should make,
- and in the mix of that, thought about,
- "well I'm the first American to do this".
- "There will be a lot of thoughts about
- American-ness of whatever I do".
- And if I were to pick an American artist that I was proud of
- and that I thought represented positive things,
- Who would that artist be?
- Not a single person to represent everybody because that's impossible,
- But somebody who'd get touched on.
- Although there's no arguing that as a painter Pollock had profound influence, and also beyond painting,
- he was the father of installion art and performance in some ways too. Or, that Andy Warhol has profound influence.
- The person who seemed to me to had, really, the most (influence) was John Cage.
- Cage was a cosmopolitan man.
- He worked in multiple mediums and he had attitudes that influnced art in every domain.
- Cage was the artist Richter first encountered in the early 1960's while a student at Dresden Art Academy.
- In the context of a Fluxus Festival that was convened more or less by Joseph Beuys.
- Far and away the most compelling of anybody was Cage, who if I recall, performed a piece where he wrote,
- With the mic attached to the pen so the sound of the pen moving on the surface of the paper was what you heard.
- Cage, it seems to me was a reference for Richter on a kind of avant-garde practice that he himself didn't follow,
- but that he respected and that he could learn from.
- Some years later, a friend of Gerhard's, who was also a friend of John's, took John to see an exhibition of Gerhard's work,
- and what was on display included on of the very large grey paints that looked like they were finger-painted, almost,
- with lots of non-directional lines and squiggles and so on,
- And took a wonderful picture of John standing with his sort of beatific smile, in front of one of Richter's paintings.
- So, although Richter and Cage didn't ever meet, in a sense Richter saw him on stage but never encountered him.
- Cage encountered Richter's work but never met him.
- Although they never met, there was this kind of charge, this current, going back and forth.
- Something else that's been said which is, I did not know until just recently, was that he was also thinking when painting,
- about the Israeli bombardment of Berut during the most recent wars between Israel and Lebanon.
- And that puts the whole different cast on what those pictures might be. When I wrote the book, I used analogies,
- that were essentially landscape analogies for describing,
- But that wasn't because I think in any way these were landscape pictures. It's because that natural environment
- is the only source that quirked me then anyway, that would provide the metaphors to describe particular textures
- and particular colors and particular ways in which the surfaces of those paintings move.
- But if you them all together, there is in the background, of a lot of his abstractions, a response to nature,
- But not the desire to represent it in any romantic or naturalist way. If there is in the back of his thinking,
- a response to Cage, and to the idea of composition which
- comes about without normal kinds of intentionality, and that
- we're specks, accident chances of the things that happened
- in the process of doing something, such that in making
- these paintings, Richter paints and paints and paints,
- and then chooses to stop.
- And if the background, the harshness of some of paintings
- the surfaces that are scored intensively with color,
- also suggest violence, at some level. And that violence
- correlating to the news of the fighting in Lebanon, if all of
- those things sort of come together, then I think you have a
- relatively good idea, if you will, of how an artist of Richter's
- caliber, is never 'influenced' by anything, but feeds on
- everything, uses everything.
- A friend of mine once said, "a genius is somebody who,
- rather like, a really good engine, burns clean."
- There's no residue. And in Richter's case, this is actually
- true, he uses everything, and there is no residue.
- And in this case, 'no residue' means there is ultimately no
- 'single reference'. There is no single thing that ties the
- immediacy of the painting back to something that is not as
- immediate as the painting.
- So it may help to think about these points of reference, but this painting is not about them. Never was.
- And, where the painting will take you, is not confined to
- those references either, because the kinds of thoughts that
- occur, the kinds of phenomenological experiences that
- occur, and the subject matters, the moods, the tensions,
- are way beyond any particular subject matter.
- If you think about it, Richter's a very methodical painter.
- And he's developed his method gradually but he's very
- consistent in his application of it, a lot like Sol LeWitt.
- He's consistent in his application precisely to create patterns
- that are not repetitive. He starts in the same place,
- plus or minus a particular ingredient or variable.
- He has made many series of paintings by this time,
- he's made many paintings by the process of application,
- scraping back a layer of paint. He's done lots and lots of
- things, but each one has a particular tenure, a particular
- scale, and so on. Now, the method he's used for the Cage
- paintings is the format he's used before. He's done for and
- he's done more, actually, in some cases.
- But the particular number of these paintings is,
- to my knowledge, unique at this format and with this surface
- and so on.
- And, for example, the block paintings to these were
- juxtaposed to the abstract show with was done in Cologne.
- And it was very, very interesting to see this contrast,
- because these block paintings are, comparatively speaking,
- swath and atmospheric, whereas these are gritty, and they
- And they do, actually have this sort of visual equivalent
- of sound that Cage was always after which was the sound
- of a prepared piano. It's a kind of percussive, audio texture,
- rather than an audio atmosphere.
- The Cage paintings are also intact as a group, which is not
- true of many of his other series.
- Increasingly hes able to place bodies of work in their entirety
- but this has only happened in recent years and many of his
- series have to be reconstituted in bits and pieces.
- I faithfully also think of Cage paintings even with the Berut
- Association, it has a kind of lift to it, I mean some of the
- greens is strange, the reds and greys can be very harsh.
- But there is a kind of, openness to those paintings,
- the surface is also paid to mind, the words betray me
- in a way, but anyway, when I walk intot that room for the first
- time, felt a kind of lift from them.
- And I think Richter is after a kind of exaltation, in paintings
- in general has been looking for that, but he's always denied
- himself the easy ways to it. He didn't want to be Rothko.
- He wanted to be Newman, and Newman is a painter of
- transcedence whose paintings are, oddly enough, rather
- clunky, a lot of them. And unforgiving. And Richter's painting
- are never clunky. But they're quite often unforgiving.
- So it's as if he's permitting himself only rarely to sort of take
- off with paintings, but when he does, he really flies.
- And I think, in this group, that's what actually what happens.
- Richter's technical innovations in this area are really
- remarkable, and they're the extension of a perception made
- very early on in his career and it's the perception of, actually
- almost any painter whose every picked up a palette and
- knife makes; that when you scrape a painting to remove
- a passage that you don't like, or when you scrape paint off
- your palette and then wipe it off it makes this smear where
- all the colors mix. And if the colors are relatively fresh,
- it gets a kind of wonderful, optical jump to it because of
- these accidental collisions of different tones and textures.
- Rosalind E. Krauss the art historian who sees everything
- froma very narrow, American perspective, and a very
- art-historically deterministic perspective, explained all of this
- in terms of Jasper John's "Device Circle", which is a painting
- where Johns makes uses of a ruler to go round in a circle to
- spread and smear paint. Now Jasper was a great painter but
- he didn't invent this. And he certainly didn't invent it for Richter.
- Krauss' lack of knowledge about Richter and her attempt to
- simply line him up with American painting in chronological
- mode, is an indication of how much the problem Richter
- has been for artists in general in this country. No, I mean the source
- that is 1. that any artist will do that, and the other source is
- actually a painting called "liebespaar" by Sigmar Polke,
- in whichthere's this pop image of a couple, and then there's
- these smears of paint on the side, and that single use of
- smeared paint in this manner and to date, Richter's own use
- of it.
- Richter and Polke have a kind of relationship that Johns
- and Rauschenberg had, they traded things back and forth,
- they took from each other freely, they were inimately
- connected with each other's work for a very long time.
- In any case, Richter, when he began to develop his work
- and to first of all think about how to blur the image that was
- an image originally favored fan brushes and house painting
- brushes, and he would drag it across the fresh paint, in
- order to make the image spread and smear and so on.
- To use a palette knife is a more abrupt thing, because it actually
- removes paint, at least in the first application, and so it's
- much more like flaying a painting, like taking the skin off
- but with a knife.
- But as he developed the abstract work it became the
- dominant mode, it was his way of creating large spaces with
- enormous amounts of activity, in fact with an enormous
- amount of paint, because if you look at the paintings like the
- group that are in St. Louis, on January to December or
- if you look at any number of paint before that, you'll see
- layer upon layer upon of very wet, very rich oil paint.
- And as the paint is dragged each time, some of it sticks and
- some of it doesn't, and as it's dragged again, there's skips
- where there's no point of contact for the next layer of paint
- to go in, so if you look at those paintings, what you're seeing
- is 1. The juxtaposition of colors that comes with 1 schmear,
- and when you look at again the 2nd time, or percieve, is that
- every place where you actually see from the top surface
- down into a crevice, you're also getting the mixes of colors
- that are down there, it's almost they're in canyon, and you
- can see this stuff firing off, layer by layer by layer, all the way up to
- the surface. And there's an extraordinarily efficient way to
- create an incredible amount of accidental imagery, or
- accidental optical incident. And as with Cage, Cage used to
- say, you know, the thing about accidents is that you do
- choose the ones you want to keep. It's not like there's no
- intention whatsoever. The process of arriving at a result is a
- process you set in motion almost blindly. The part that's not
- blind is the decision; once you've made something,
- to keep it or not. And in Richter's case, that's what it's all
- about, the numbers of layers of paint have to do less with
- the desire to load it up and make some busy, physical thing,
- than dissatisfaction with everything that was there previously
- so he keeps putting it on until something happens that he
- can then hold on to it.
- The one other, I think, crucial part of this has to do with his
- relation to painting of the 1940's, 50's and early 60's that we
- call abstract expressionism or (french). The general
- tendency at that time was 1. To use brushes, and 2. To
- associate the brush mark with some kind of direct transmission
- through the artist and of an emotional content or of
- a structural intention or what have you. And then to couple
- that or link all of that with a kind of signature mark, that thing
- that only that hand would do, and so when we look at a
- de Kooning or a Pollock dripping, you know, the old rules of
- connoisseur-ship come in, you know, that is Pollock's mark,
- that's de Kooning's mark, or that's Fo Triaz' mark, or that is
- Schumacher's mark, or whatever the case might be.
- All of that has to do with the brush, or what the, Siqueiros,
- who was a Mexican painter who was against this kind of art also said,
- "the stick with hairs on it."
- What Richter has done, basically, was to reintroduce the
- gesture without gesturalism; use a tool that makes it impossible
- to make a signature mark, unless of course, you think of a
- broad sweep of, you know, moving lava-like paint as a mark.
- So he was able to surface the work, to create movement
- within the work, without, for the most part, allowing the hand
- itself to be the protagonist, much less the artist, whose
- hand that is.
- The only exceptions to this would be those paintings where
- he then takes the end of the brush and scores things and
- makes marks within it, often, I think, just to expose the
- hidden layers at a certain point of the paint. There you
- begin to get the idea of gesturalism as it was practiced
- before, but by and large, it's this other thing. It's this process
- it's this willingness to let go of certain kinds of control in
- order that other things happen.
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