High on the Richter Scale

Gerhardt at Work
A still from the movie, Gerhardt Richter Painting, by Corinna Belz, A Kino Lorber Release (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

This year, as painter Gerhardt Richter turns 80, we will be treated to a film that allows us to watch the man at work, frustrating the canvas and his voyeurs. On March 14 Kino Lorber will release Corinna Belz’s Gerhardt Richter Painting to the public.

The Filmmaker, Corinna Belz

A student of philosophy, art history, and media sciences, Corinna Belz is no slouch when it comes to fluffing the brand with some very fine artspeak:

“It became clear to me that a film about a painter must focus on painting. It was the actual work in the artist’s studio that interested me most: the authentic and immediate process of putting paint to canvas, and the instruments, gestures, and movements involved, emotionally as well as physically.”

And Kino Lorber’s official GRP site is full of the hot winds of tribute and mysticism to come:

“From our fly-on-the-wall perspective, we watch the 79-year-old create a series of large-scale abstract canvasses, using fat brushes and a massive squeegee to apply (and then scrape off) layer after layer of brightly colored paint. This mesmerizing footage, of a highly charged process of creation and destruction, turns Belz’s portrait of an artist into a work of art itself.”

But despite the hagiographic PR, and the posty- post- postPOST  bandwagon which is sure to follow, I find this film on my absolutely-must-see list.

I’ve always loved Richter for his virtuosity. Before he was making vast gooey abstracts, he went through many techniques (some simultaneously developing), all of them deeply experimental and all of them well executed.

Google Gerhardt Richter to see a vast array of well executed visual experiments.

From his ghostly grey early photographic works, to his super real portraits, to his mixed media installations, and finally to his varied experiments with abstraction, he has shown a level of skill and imagination, and even wit, that is rare and, I must say, beautiful.

That said…

I wonder, though, at the recent glut of what I call ‘richterisms’ in the abstract art arena: are these new paintings that use dragging and blotting and other forms of paint distress simply about trying to find a way to ground abstract art in method again?

I hope not: because that can’t be done by implementing a bag of tricks. And, face it, composition, color, and texture aren’t conceptual any more so most abstract painting will just come off as decorative (and I mean that in the worst way).

Delish as these super frosted cakes can be, they often come off as clones and dramatic accidents.

Best of the Richterites: Jerry Saltz Macs on Jackie Saccoccio;s Lush Mica at the Eleven Rivington Booth at the Armory Show. The paintins is Portrait(Hermetic), 2012 oil and mica on linen. Photo courtesy of Jackie Saccoccio.
Best of the Richterites: Visiting Eleven Rivington's booth at the Armory Show, Jerry Saltz macs on Jackie Saccoccio's lush mica. Portrait(Hermetic), 2012 oil and mica on linen. This photo courtesy of Jackie Saccoccio.

But don’t take this as an out and out judgement on all paintings that use these techniques: some, like Jackie Saccoccio, have added their own virtuosity with luminouse clouds of color and more deliberate compostion.

Let me put it this way, any artists who are inspired by Richter should explore virtuosity: and that means, not simply mastering Richter’s techniques, but finding and mastering your own.

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