On the occasion of his 90th birthday on 9 February 2022, the Art Library in the New National Gallery is showing Gerhard Richter’s artist’s books for the first time in a major survey exhibition. The books, for which Richter always drew on his own pictorial motifs and experimented with abstract processes, are indispensable for understanding his work and his self-image as an artist. With works from the collection of the Art Library, the National Gallery and the Museum of Prints and Drawings as well as loans from the Gerhard Richter Archive of the Dresden State Art Collections and the publishing house of the Walther und Franz König bookshop, Cologne, the exhibition provides a unique insight into the artist’s world of thought.
Image above: Gerhard Richter, Portrait, © Werner Bartsch
Gerhard Richter, born in Dresden on 9 February 1932, is one of the best-known and most successful contemporary artists. For decades, his art has inspired through the painterly techniques, the intellectual stringency of the themes and the consistent changes in working methods, from the first grey blurred pictures after photographs to the colourful abstract paintings. Richter’s first artist’s book was produced as early as 1966 in collaboration with Sigmar Polke. Since then, books have become indispensable for understanding his work and his self-image as an artist.
YouTube find on Gerhard Richter: The 26-minute short documentary “Ema auf der Treppe. Gerhard Richter 1966” by filmmaker Corinna Belz, which was first broadcast on 20.05.2012. The (almost) eponymous painting “Ema (Nude on a Staircase)” is in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. In 1982, it was slashed by an unknown exhibition visitor with a sharp or pointed object. The subsequent restoration process is shown in this short film by Corinna Belz, who has been allowed to film Gerhard Richter several times during his creative process (Gerhard Richter. Painting). At the same time, the documentary also tells of Gerhard Richter’s first years in Düsseldorf from a personal and artistic perspective.
In the exhibition in the Graphic Cabinet of the New National Gallery, Richter’s artist’s books from the collection of the Art Library are presented in an overall show with prints from the collection of the Museum of Prints and Drawings and complemented by the large abstract painting “Atelier” from the collection of the National Gallery, which is paradigmatic for his work.
From the publishing house of the Walther und Franz König bookshop in Cologne, where almost all of Gerhard Richter’s artist’s books have appeared, come numerous publications that can be picked up to leaf through, discover and read.
Valuable special editions, editions, drafts and letters from the Gerhard Richter Archive of the Dresden State Art Collections round off the special exhibition.
Three themes run through the exhibition: The section “The Artist’s Image” focuses on Gerhard Richter’s self-dramatisation as the author of his paintings. His self-image as a painter emerged from many variations and shifts in social expectations of an artist. Parody, masquerade and play, above all irony and humour, are the means by which he eluded being pinned down to one style of painting. The section “The Image of Photography” focuses on the photographic representations of his painted pictures, which enabled Richter to detach the motifs from their image carrier and gain distance. New contexts emerged in books through the technique of photographic enlargement into extreme detail.
In the book, Gerhard Richter’s countless own photographs took the place of press images, they were painted over with lacquer paints or found their place in the Atlas, the large archive of artistic work. The third theme, “The Image of Chance”, shows the interplay of calculation and chance in Gerhard Richter’s work. In order to find new pictorial motifs, he brought chance into play, following the example of the compositions of John Cage and Steve Reich, as the artist’s counterpart, with which he divided and assembled the texts in books in controlled operations or tested the dynamics of colours and patterns in pictures.
The exhibition opens up a view of the intensive cooperation between the collections of the National Museums in Berlin in the future Museum of the 20th Century. Both the Art Library and the Museum of Prints and Drawings will have their own exhibition areas with their rich holdings in the new building of the National Gallery.
Likewise, the Gerhard Richter Art Foundation is providing the National Gallery with 100 works for the Museum of the 20th Century at the Berlin Kulturforum on long-term loan – including important individual works such as “Occupied House” (1989) or series of works such as the four-part cycle “Birkenau” (2014). From 2023, selected works from the collection will be presented in the Graphic Cabinet of the New National Gallery; after completion of the new building by Herzog & De Meuron, they will be on display in the room dedicated to Gerhard Richter on the upper floor of the museum.
The collection of the National Gallery already contains numerous works by Gerhard Richter, including major works such as “Vorhang III” (1965) or “Seestück (See-See)” (1970). As early as 1986, the basement of the Neue Nationalgalerie hosted the special exhibition “Gerhard Richter. Bilder 1962-1985” took place in the basement of the Neue Nationalgalerie; this was followed in 2012 by the large retrospective “Gerhard Richter. Panorama” in the upper hall of the Neue Nationalgalerie.
The exhibition “Gerhard Richter. Künstlerbücher” is curated by Michael Lailach, Head of the Art Library’s Book Art Collection.
A special exhibition by the Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with the Gerhard Richter Archive, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne, the Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne: ISBN 978-3-7533-0179-2, 25 €. With “Gerhard Richter. Künstlerbücher 1966-2021”, an annotated catalogue raisonné has been published by the same publishing house: ISBN 978-3-7533-0150-1, 68 €.
Thursday, 10 February until Sunday, 29 May 2022
Tue – Wed 10 – 18 Uhr, Thu 10 – 20 Uhr, Fri – Sun 10 – 18 Uhr
Neue Nationalgalerie in the Kulturforum
Potsdamer Straße 50, 10785 Berlin-Tiergarten