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Gerhard Richter at David Zwirner, New York

“Gerhard Richter,” the artist’s first appearance at Zwirner Gallery, presents 14 of his last paintings, three very recent series of works on paper, and one of his glass sculptures. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

The exhibition presents a group of Richter’s last paintings, made in 2016–2017; a number of these abstract oil paintings will be shown here for the first time. Though Richter completed his last paintings in 2017, his dynamic practice continues his artistic inquiries into the possibilities of abstraction and perception through his ongoing experimentation with drawing, printing and sculpture. 

Richter has produced a new glass installation that continues his exploration of the human perspective and the built environment. An expansive suite of new works on paper from 2021–2022—some made with ink and others with graphite and colored pencil—are also on view, as well as works related to the artist’s mood series of colored ink sketches. As Dieter Schwarz notes, Richter’s new work “has transformed into the celebration of the visible and this celebration is driving new chapters in [his] indefatigable creativity.”

Centrally featured in the exhibition is 3 Scheiben (3 Panes of Glass) (2023), a new glass sculpture created this year that comprises three sequential rectangular panes of transparent yet reflective glass—each one positioned upright and measuring almost ten feet in height. The installation invites viewers to look at, through, and beyond its surface, revealing the inherently subjective and situational nature of observed reality.

Richter has maintained an analytical and wide-ranging fascination with glass. His free-standing glass works are positioned as a literal reflection on painting and image-making; they respond to the art-historical notion of the painting as both a mirror and a window, while also acting as a powerful corollary to the blurred effect of Richter’s photo paintings, which the artist began experimenting with in the 1960s.

Richter first began working with glass over half a century ago, with his landmark 1967 installation 4 Glasscheiben (4 Panes of Glass) which was conceived as a response to The Large Glass (1915–1923) by Marcel Duchamp. As Richter recalled years later, “I think something in Duchamp didn’t suit me—all that mystery-mongering—and that’s why I painted those simple glass panes and showed the whole windowpane problem in a completely different light.”

The installation in New York belongs to a later body of work comprising groups of freestanding transparent glass panes. Richter began creating these installations in 2002, beginning with 4 Stehende Scheiben (4 Standing Panes), now in the collection of the Lenbachhaus, Munich. When viewed head-on, the image that is visible through the glass becomes increasingly distorted, dimmed, and opaque as it passes through each successive panel. As Dietmar Elger observes, in these upright glass works, “Richter gradually dissolved the ‘image’ as a framed detail of reality by increasing the distance to reality through various forms of manipulation, such that the work then took on a reality all its own.”

An expansive suite of new works on paper from 2021–2022—some made with ink, and others with graphite and colored pencil—are also on view in New York. Richter’s drawings constitute a significant element of his practice, allowing him to explore another aspect of the role of the artist’s hand in the creation of a dynamic and abstract pictorial narrative. As Michael Newman notes, “in a series of drawings that have planes at an angle to each other, the planes can be seen as opaque screens that double that of the drawing itself.”

Many of these works feature passages of cloudy graphite rubbings juxtaposed with equally hazy semi-erased portions. The artist embeds a sparse network of crisscrossing arcs and lines among this backdrop, forming an enigmatic topography that seems to map out the very possibilities of image-making itself.

Other drawings on view are composed of abstract monochrome washes of ink and graphite, taking on a decisively painterly appearance. As Richter describes, these works on paper outline a parallel but complementary path to his painted oeuvre, much like “a poem and a novel by the same author.”

The exhibition also brings together a group of Richter’s last oil paintings, made in 2016–2017, a number of which are shown in New York for the first time. Richter stopped making oil paintings in 2017, and the final canvas he made is on view in the exhibition. Part of the artist’s Abstrakte Bilder (Abstract Paintings) series—a cornerstone of his practice since the 1970s—the works exemplify Richter’s investigations into chance occurrences and the painted medium’s historical and material properties. With their highly worked and intricately stratified surfaces, the last paintings foreground the sheer physical presence of paint and color, enacting a mode of composition that is aleatory yet deliberately planned.

The blurring concealment of Richter’s Abstract Paintings recalls the tension between the medium of glass as a transparent surface and a reflective one and the notion of the picture plane metaphorically functioning as a window or as a mirror, underscoring how Richter interrogates painting in many media and through a range of conceptual frameworks.

Extending his career-long experiments with the iterative translation and interplay of mediums, Richter created mood, a group of inkjet prints that relate to a recent series of colored ink drawings that debuted together at the Fondation Beyeler in 2022. These vibrant prints are almost indistinguishable from their ink counterparts, revealing Richter’s continued fascination with the possibilities of image reproduction.

In relation to Richter’s glass installations, Hans Ulrich Obrist explains, “the word ‘reflect’ has two planes of meaning which bring the viewer into the picture, and thus the viewer is in two states at once.” This concept of reflection is physically illustrated in Richter’s Fondation Beyeler exhibition, where the prints were installed adjacent to the originals, thus mirroring them.

Schwarz notes, “in contrast to the originals, which have only the date of their making as a title, Richter titled the edition of prints mood. The use of an English title in lieu of such corresponding German terms as Laune or Stimmung conjures up memories of jazz —‘In the Mood’—also implies that this voiceless sequence of images is fast becoming a titled object.” Through mood, Richter continues his exploration and fascination with the possibilities of seriality, and optic processing.

The mood prints resume the artist’s lifelong concern with boundlessness and the slippage between material and spiritual realms, and between a pure visuality and the instabilities of consciousness. In his essay, “To see everything—to comprehend nothing,” Dieter Schwarz reaffirms Richter’s lineage in German romantic philosophy and painting, with its emphasis on the mediation between nature and mind, and between the world of appearances and that of human understanding.

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