Gerhard Richter: Panorama
When we first booked our trip to London, the Gerhard Richter retrospective at Tate Modern was at the top of our “must-see” list. Having recently encountered a few incredible examples of his work at the Art Institute in Chicago, we were more than eager to see an entire exhibition devoted to the multifaceted and almost five-decade career of this legendary German artist. While the retrospective is an art world right of passage doled out when an artist has reached a certain stature and typically spans his or her entire career, it is one of the most difficult types of exhibitions to pull off successfully. Thankfully, Gerhard Richter: Panorama far exceeded our high expectations.
Richter emerged in the 1960s amongst a generation of artists who were grappling with the new social and political realities of the post-war era as well as an art world transformed by the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in New York. This exhibition, planned to commemorate the artist’s 80th birthday, traces the development of his extensive practice by creating 13 thematic groupings that highlight pivotal moments in Richter’s career. In his work we can witness the various ideas and approaches that have consumed Western art over the past 60 years including the ready-made, Pop Art, abstraction, the monochrome and the fraught relationship between painting and photography. The diversity of his production is staggering: from subtle, yet evocative paintings based on photographs, to history paintings and landscapes, to grey monochromes and painterly abstractions made with squeegees, it is impossible to identify a style that defines his work. Richter was also one of the first artists to engage directly with the history of Nazi Germany, creating portraits of Party members and those who perished at their hands, in addition to his important series of portraits of the Baader Meinhof group, a radical left-wing movement that emerged in the 1970s.
Gerhard Richter: Panorama requires time, and probably a repeat visit, in order to grasp and appreciate the power and complexity of what is largely quiet and understated work. Despite being fascinated with every aspect of his practice, we were most enthralled by his large paintings that examine the limits of human perception, blurred images that deviate from their photographic source material to suggest movement. These are mesmerizing works that could be stared at for days. Well-curated and beautifully installed, the thematic groupings in the exhibition allow continuities, fractures and alternate interpretations to emerge. It is an absolute must-see and definitely one of the best exhibitions we have visited all year.
Click here to see examples of Richter’s work.