After missing last Wednesday’s Contemporary Art class, I spent a morning alone at the National Gallery’s new Gerhard Richter exhibit. I have heard about Richter as a very prominent living artist, but I had never actually seen any of his art. The pieces displayed in the exhibit revealed a complex artist with an impossibly wide range of styles.
At the beginning of the exhibit, there was a large quote painted on the wall: “I’m trying to paint a picture of what I have seen and what moved me, as well as I can. That is all.” This reminded me of many of quotes I had read in the Van Gogh museum. Richter and Van Gogh strive to depict not just what is there, but what “moved” them more deeply. Both men believe that paintings are not objective accounts—they incorporate elements of the artist.
Most of the exhibit’s early paintings were grey representations of photographs. Although they depicted static images, they had a kind of dynamic blur for which Richter is apparently well known. I enjoyed this blur; I think it made the paintings much more interesting, but I find his writings on the blur confusing. After first insisting, “I don’t create blurs,” Richter later said, “I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant.” Again, I find this confusing, but I think it might mean that the blur introduces some sort of unity or softness in its paintings.
Richter focused a lot on the color grey. He has said that grey represents absence and misery: “grey is the ideal color for indifference.” In fact, the exhibit featured many entirely grey canvases. After attending so many different exhibits this semester, I’m very much over this kind of art. How many times can a solid-colored canvas possibly make a statement? There’s an American idiom based on an old children’s story that says “the emperor has no clothes.” It is used to refer to situations in which something supposedly prestigious actually has no value, but people are afraid to say so for fear of appearing unintelligent.
I was much more excited by Richter’s more colorful work, and it sounds like this was his favorite kind of art to produce as well. If grey is indifference, then Richter’s “Splits” are explosions of emotion. The large-scale digital works are so bright that they are almost aesthetically challenging. It physically hurt my eyes to stand too close to them. It was hard to believe they were made by the same artist who produced so many of the all-grey canvases I had seen earlier. Richter’s diversity as an artist is truly unparalleled.