Gerhard Richter: Panorama is an exhibition currently being held at the Tate Modern, in which the European post-war artist uses both abstract and realist works to explore the notion of “needing doubt to see properly.” The works in the exhibition span a period of five decades and highlight significant moments in his career, as a way of celebrating his 80th birthday.
Upon arriving at the Tate Modern and walking in through the enormous, eerily-empty entryway, my initial emotions of curiosity and wonder soon changed to those of awe and excitement. Having been briefed by my professor before arriving, I knew I was to go into the exhibition to view pieces that were created to challenge the way I see.
I walked through a dozen rooms filled with black and white portraits, abstracts in grey, mirrors that distorted your body shape, color-palette paintings, blurred landscapes and abstractcollage works, all of them having their own unique way of distorting vision. There was such an incredible amount of variety in the exhibit and each room, and with each turn of the corner something new and unexpected awaited. The use of blur and motion in his paintings seemed to be a way to play with the essence of time and its passing; not just capturing a snapshot of one single moment on a canvas, but as a way of showing the ever-changing, ever-moving, unstoppable lives we live.
Normally, I wouldn’t think abstract and the realist works could fit so well together, but because they were so incredibly well done in their areas- the realist works looked almost as if they were photographs, while the abstracts were surreal and undistinguishable- they worked, and worked quite well. There was something brilliantly striking about the extreme contrast between the two. There could be an enormous canvas covered with hundreds of colors applied with the use of a squeegee (Abstract Painting series), and next to it a life-like acrylic work of a flower complete with light and shadow (Flowers [Blumen]1977).
In some of his realist works, he explored the idea of how the eye senses the difference between a painting and the photograph by either making them so real that they looked like a picture, or by using a blur technique. My personal favorites of these two styles, respectively, was a beautifully painted portrait of his daughter, blurred and facing away from the viewer, as to capture his ‘the act of looking’ (Betty 1988), and Tourist (with 2 Lions), a fabulous black and white oil painting blurred down with a smoky atmosphere to where two lion heads, (or was one the tourist?), are just barely distinguishable.
As soon as I walked into Room #3, Damaged Landscapes, Seascape (Sea-Sea) caught my attention and it was one of his works that stuck in my memory upon leaving the Gallery. In this black and white photo collage, Richter heavily played into his notion of making us doubt in order to find the truth and meaning in a given context. From afar, it looked to be a view looking out onto the horizon of a choppy sea under stormy skies. Reading the excerpt next to it, this wasn’t correct at all. He had actually taken seas from two photographs, inverted one above the other, placed it upside down on the canvas, and then painted it. The viewer’s first instinct is to look at this painting and place it in the category of a stormy seascape, but as soon as you look closer, it leaves you with a feeling of unfulfillment. As quoted in the exhibition book- “The affect of the painting serves as an allegory of the general situation at this historical moment- no matter the desire for continuity with the past, one is left with a consciousness of a break that makes cohesion impossible.”
If you want to experience one of the greatest modern day painters and his huge collection of his extremely varied and well-done art, I would highly recommend checking out Gerhard Richter: Panorama. I enjoyed it so much I bought a copy of the book published to accent the exhibition, and would recommend that as well. It is well worth the £12.70 admission charge. And with that, I will end this post with one last quote from Richter- “Since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth. We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.”
This exhibition will be running at the Tate Modern from 6 October 2011 – 8 January 2012. For more information, please visit the Tate website.