Monday, November 10, 2014

Gerhard Richter in Marian Goodman's Gallery. On Golden Square, London

Strip, 2013
Gerhard Richter, Strip 930-1, 2013

Marian Goodman has finally opened an exhibition space in London. It is stunning. In an old industrial space on Golden Square in Soho, it’s grand, spacious and on the evening I visited, was filled with London’s misty late autumn light. Anyone who thinks they have seen enough Gerhard Richter paintings, will still want to visit gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Gerhard Richter, if for no other reason than to be inside this inspiring new space. And anyone – like me – who thinks they have already seen the Richter works needs to see them here on display at Marian Goodman. Because their inhabitation of the superb new space makes it like seeing them for the first time.
7 Panes of Glass (House of Cards), 2013
Gerhard Richter, 7 Panes of Glass (House of Cards), 2013
House of Cards is perhaps Richter’s most baroque, and simultaneously, futuristic piece of art. It is filled with distortions, reflections, fragility and a monumentality that dissolves as soon as we are absorbed into the piece through our reflection on the glass faces. In typical Richter contradiction, the glass sheets remind us both of Richard Serra’s precariously placed steel plates and, of Richter’s own accord, the ice flows of Casper David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice (1823-24). They are both fragile and intransigent, continually shifting and incomprehensible. Filled with the reflection of neon lights, other paintings, and the visitors who try to make sense of the House of Cards, the glass sheets are mesmerizing.

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Gerhard Richter, Doppelgrau, 2014
A series of four Doppelgrau, 2014 works are Richter’s most recent pieces in the exhibition. Paint and glass come to belong together to create diptychs. While Richter has fused paint and glass together for years, Doppelgrau introduce something new to his oeuvre. They go back to grey, an intensity of and serious focus on grey that has not been seen since the Eight Grey were presented at the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2002. And like those works, we question the status of Doppelgrau. Are they sculpture? Paintings? Architectural? Is it important to distinguish the two different greys? Or even, what shade of grey is actually used? And what is the reference to art history? They are diptychs afterall. Unlike painting as we know it, the Doppelgrau works encourage us not to look. We are distracted by the reflection of other paintings, and beyond their existence on the wall of the gallery, there is nothing to look at. I was left with more questions than answers for Doppelgrau.

Installation view Image
Gerhard Richter, Installation View at Marian Goodman on Golden Square
Upstairs, under the iron and glass windows of the old factory ceiling, a series of Strip paintings from 2012 and 2013 fill the walls. Here, Richter’s painting has become clean, cold, and finite – but then, of course, as usual, these examples are simultaneously, none of these. The lines extend forever off the side of the image. I was enthralled to find – especially with the ten metre long versions – the velocity of the works. Up close, there is nothing to see, nothing to contemplate, and so, I walked the length of the painting, to find it had me racing, moving at a high and intense speed. There was nothing finite or cold about it. I can’t describe the logic behind the speed of physical movement they encourage, even demand. I just noticed that they had this effect. And yet, in the middle of the room, away from their influence, I felt as though I was standing in a cathedral built for the Strip paintings. Light pours through the windows, and without me up close, the paintings are left with each other, creating a perfection that makes them holy. They sit there in this magnificent space, together in complete silence.

Installation view Image
Gerhard Richter, Strip 930-2, 2013
Installation View
The Strip paintings are like landscapes, horizontal, and infused with the familiar Richter elusiveness. I wonder if they are so different from the fifty years of paintings that precede them. They may have lost the luscious, tactile oil paint of the overpainted photographs, but the sensuousness has only been transformed, it is not erased. It is no longer found on the surface, in the paint, but it can be found in the unpredictability of the interaction, between the movement, placement of the viewer and the paintings themselves. As Richter gets older, his work becomes increasingly conceptual. There is nothing to do but walk along the length of the Strip paintings, because they are all but impossible to look at. Their movement, their psychedelic colours hurt the eye with optical illusions. Here the image has all but disappeared. So we have reached this place where not only is there nothing to see, but like the cinema, Richter's image no longer exists an object. Painting has become transparent, translucent and not even a surface. Or at least, when it is a surface, it is simultaneously violated as a surface. 

Installation view Image
Gerhard Richter, Flow 933-4, 2013 and Flow 933-3, 2013
Installation View
The paintings I find least appealing are also those that seem to capture all that Richter's work is about: the Flow paintings are about being in process. In these paintings, the unexpected here arises out of and in the narrative unfolding – Flow captures that invisible moment that can’t be touched. It is the randomness of the moment that Richter decides to stop. And this is the moment that he gives to us in a painting, a moment that is always elusive, always in the process of becoming something that we can never touch, and in his most recent works, can no longer see. 

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