Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gerhard Richter, Dessins et Aquarelles 1957-2008, au Louvre

Gerhard Richter, 7.1991. Ink on paper, 1991
c. ADAGP Kunstmuseum Winterthur
Even though a number of contemporary artists have exhibited in the Louvre, I still think that entering into the hallowed halls of the great museum brings a certain kudos to contemporary artists. And Gerhard Richter confirms his place in the upper echelons of French culture as his retrospective not only occupies the Centre Pompidou, but two rooms just off the main hallway of the Louvre have been given over to his drawings and water colors. The achievement is even more impressive when we remember that Richter is a German artist who has no obvious connection to France. The very exhibition of these works in the Louvre is honor indeed.

Gerhard Richter, 27.4.1999 (1), 1999
Private Collection, Cologne

The drawings are sensuous, intimate, even more intimate than the paintings which, as I repeatedly insist, give us opportunity to sense and to see the great artist in the pulling and dragging of paint across a canvas. In the drawings and watercolors we see his hand move, at times, uncontrollably, across paper. The works are physical as well, in a wholly different way from the paintings. They are physical because their creation is so vulnerably present to the point where, at times, they appear as not fully conscious reveries.  

It’s difficult to look at the drawings without thinking of the paintings, and often they are connected, somehow belonging to the seriality of the paintings. Sometimes the drawings are conceived in advance of the paintings, or as reflections on them. In the multiple renditions of Halifax, the drawings are like extensions or versions of the 128 Photos of a Picture (Halifax 1978) in which Richter photographed the original painting in extreme close up in black and white to create a new abstract vision, or series of visions, discrete unto themselves. In the drawings of the same title on display in the Louvre exhibition, it is as though he is exploring the physical texture of the painted surface in lead pencil on paper. What light achieved in the photographs, Richter here reaches through movement of the pencil. Except of course, the drawings come twenty years before the photographs.
Gerhard Richter, Halifax, 1978
CR: 78/15-6 
There are also conceptual and thematic continuities between the drawings, watercolors and paintings. Throughout we see a continued importance of time and place: November, the Elbe, even Halifax Times and places are always ambiguous in Richter’s work because it’s never clear whether or how the title is important. Are the series of watercolors painted daily in November 2008 remembering or documenting the importance of this month? Or do they merely reveal the weather in the winter months? In another consistency with Richter’s paintings, he draws and explores inks and watercolors always in series. And the series is always a search for something that he never finds, or something that is always on the cusp of appearing. We see windows, figures who are never realized, sometimes because they are unfinished, at others because they are always in a state of appearing and disappearing across the paper support. And then there is the characteristic Richter erasure, the palimpsestic over drawing erasing and re-inscribing.

Gerhard Richter, 128 Photos of a Picture (Halifax 1978)
1998, CR: 99
I must say, some of the drawings are so hastily and sketchily done that I wonder if they had not been done by Gerhard Richther would we bother to stop and look at them? Moreover, the drawings and watercolors do not come together in a body of work over which various issues are repeated and worked out year after year after year. Similarly,  not all of these images are equally captivating. This skepticism, coming from me who otherwise struggles to see Richter's work as anything short of a masterpiece, is quite a statement. However, I will say that my issue may perhaps be the museum's reverence for the works more than it is with Richter's drawings and watercolors themselves.
Gerhard Richter, November, 2008
Ink on Paper, Private Collection Cologne
 Because for all that I say, the most gorgeous images are the series of ink on paper works, November a title given to them apparently because they were painted daily throughout the month of November in 2008. I wondered how they were made, perhaps they are blown or put under glass and smudged as the areas of different colored inks are bloom and bleed, floating across the page. With Richter it is always a question of how they are made, but then when we know how he does it, the mystery remains. How has the ink become pink? And are the inks on oiled paper making the medium pull away from the surface of the support? Do they have some reference to the wintery world outside Richter’s window, or is the title about no more than the month they were made? In some the ink is absorbed, and on others it looks as though the paper may have been folded in half and the “figure” on one side repeated on the other. 

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