• (first published on artlifemagazine.com)

The old Man and the Canvas, Gerhard Richter's Masterpieces at Centre Pompidou, Paris


(Paris.) Parisian Centre Pompidou is the third and last institution to host this retrospective of painting's last genius, following the Tate Modern and Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin.

The presentation is half chronological, half thematic, right from the start we are confronted with all different facets of Richter’s work and may recognise (art) history and (mass) culture everywhere. There are Hans Hartung ("Untitled (Strich)", 1968), Joseph Kosuth ("Stool in profile", 1965), Roy Lichtenstein ("Mustang Squadron", 1964), Leni Riefenstahl ("Negroes (Nuba)", 1964), touristic postcards ("Egyptian Landscape", 1964), automotive journals ("Ferrari", 1964), advertisements ("Folding Dryer", 1962), Marcel Duchamp ("Ema", 1966), Titian ("Annunciation after Titian", 1973) etc. pp., all executed by Richter with a masterhood that at least equals where not surpasses the original, an entire museum in one show.

But imagine for a moment some business school marketing brain mistakenly gotten lost here (maybe having entered because Richter carries the same forename as German ex-chancellor Schroeder - today the idol in French business circles, to the amused bewilderment of his compatriots) - he will never get this. Richter does not deliver what some clearly defined target group is looking for, he does not restrict his activities to any core business, there is no standardization to match customer's needs - heck, what is his branding, what does G.R. stand for? Well, he stays in the branch "painting", argh no; there is a sculpture thing... This artist indeed offers a bit of everything.

And cross marketing has completely failed, Marian Goodman's Parisian expo been sold out already last year - PR strategies work much better for the young generation like Wim Delvoye currently at Perrotin museum and Louvre gallery or Hamish Fulton at Plateau and Torri...Richter with his eighty years is so funking anti-modern, innovationist, individualist and generalist, open-minded, yes: intelligent - you really need balls (sorry, ladies) to do this. Always in search of new challenges he explores and extends his own limits and those of painting.

And he is not a simple copier, this is as far as it gets from senseless reproduction; Richter absorbs, adopts and transforms the sources into his own art, he delivers remixes, reinterpretations that only reference his inspirations. He is a figurative painter and an abstract one; sometimes both at the same time ("Venice", 1986) - in the end every contour on a canvas is just a form. Some series are black and white, others grey, or confront us with venomous colours like neoprene green and yellow ("Yellow-Green", 1982), that could make you puke in other contexts (no good for a logo), sometimes the colours are not even there like in Richter's glass sculptures (windows?). Tirelessly questioning the meaning of painting itself, its definitions and potential, Richter's whole career has been occupied by one question: Painting - what is this?

There is nothing to rely on in his work; the artist does as he pleases in order to find his own answers - no need to stop thinking just because others have already delivered theirs. Safety is overrated.Richter's reflections took him all way down to the foundations, to colour fields like syllables for that lost protolanguage in "1024 colours" (1963), lately revisited with "Strip" (2011): a computer produced work and a great joke on every interpreter, as you may regard it only from a distance. Getting closer to see the details, to enter the microlevel and understand its mechanisms, its composition, it gets impossible to focus, the colours elude themselves, causing you actual physical pain; all dizzy you are forced to turn your eyes away within seconds. What a brilliant statement from an artist who stays one step ahead, forever unseizeable!

And everything here seems to be unmistakeably Richter. Though this might as well be the infamous museum effect: When a show is presented correctly you tend to see coherence everywhere, and everything ends up on one level. Then you wonder how someone could not have bought these works back in the days when they were still affordable. But if you saw only one of them in a group show in some descent gallery, probably part of the magic would be lost, or mixed up with enough uncertainty to keep you from trusting your senses. So certainly there are minor works, too, hidden between the masterpieces. Anyway, at some point you completely stop thinking, to fall on your knees and worship the sheer beauty of "Clouds Triptych" (1970), "Seascape" (1970), "Iceberg in Mist" (1982), "Candle" (1982; no wind), "Abstract Painting" (1992), "Forest (3)" (1990), ... After all Gerhard Richter is a great artist because he fulfils both needs we search to satisfy in art: reflection and beauty. You may read tens of thousands of pages written by the most brilliant art historians on his case, you can (try to) explain every single dot and find how cunning all of this is. And you may just meditate, relax and feel these works. Conceptual art and impressionism in one, maybe this is the secret.

Then, when leaving the show you discover some curious stardom phenomena in the museum shop, strategically placed at the exit. All three venues' catalogues are on sale, the version even in two variants for 49,90 € or 65 €, their only difference: the cover (no limitation, no signature or else). Who is stupid enough to buy this? Oh yes, I see, our marketing brain again... at least this is a premium product, a refined sales strategy to catch attention at the point of decision, when customers are weak, helplessly under the influence of their recent visit. He might also be interested in Birgit Pelzer's brochure "Le désir tragique", black and white copies of abstract paintings on some fifty pages, a short text. Unsigned 5 Euros. Signed by the artist and Mrs Pelzer: 100 Euros (somebody just laughed?). But let's leave this marketing fellow once and for all, as his eyes are seeking refuge, his gaze sinking into his Submariner....

Though one question lasts: Where to buy the exhibition OST? "Djewdjewdjeew-djeeew" - every ninety seconds, when an admirer comes to close to a work (too close being less than 50 cm/20"). A fabulous sound, just like those first videogames when we were kids. Could even be a work itself. Interaction, "art relationnel", you might create your own performance, dancing in front of a painting, throwing your limbs over the line to make music... No, rather don't. But come to see the show.

Gerhard Richter, Centre Pompidou.Place Georges Pompidou, 75191 Paris, France

From June 6–September 24, 2012.




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