Gerhard Richter

Biography of Gerhard Richter

Undoubtedly the most prominent living painter of our era, Gerhard Richter’s assent to the top having left East Germany as a student has been nothing short of meteoric. Demand for Gerhard Richter’s work has grown to such intensity in recent years that even the painter himself has expressed his incredulity at the huge sums being paid out. Gerhard Richter’s contribution to art is truly incalculable. At a time when many people were declaring painting’s demise he reinvigorated the medium by showing how it could be used to expose hidden fundamental truths in images mined from print media, books, internet, or photographs.


Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1932 just as the Nazi Third Reich was coming to power, Gerhard Richter showed early promise as a draughtsman and left school to take up an apprenticeship as a set painter in a theater. Although he achieved recognition as a painter of murals in the Social Realist style enforced by the then ruling Soviet regime he felt his work was unable to capture the tumultuous nature of life itself. In 1961 and just months before the German Democratic Republic’s completion of the Berlin wall, Gerhard Richter escaped to the West and enrolled at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf. It was here that he became immersed in the relationship between painting and photographic sources, trailblazing a course that was to prove integral to both his own practice and the direction of post-World War II painting. Within less than a year of leaving the Academy Richter was already exhibiting in two commercial galleries.


Gerhard Richter’s unrelenting urge to find new painterly languages moved him away from the figurative and towards an embrace of abstraction. One of this artist’s most extraordinary achievements is in utilizing his own work to interrogate how images that seemingly portray truths are in fact untrustworthy and unstable. Fascinated by how political ideology could turn into terrorism and how the State and the media present it, Gerhard Richter produced a series of paintings depicting the arrest of the Red Army Fraction members in the 1980s. It proved a provocative subject that struck a cord with many from the postwar generation in Germany still at odds with their relationship to the Nazi regime.


Gerhard Richter’s paintings from photographs often bear no identifiable trace of the subject, thus forcing the viewer to consider the production and composition of the painting itself and simultaneously avoiding any distraction from its emotional content. Always working across a broad range of genres and subjects, Gerhard Richter often relies on chance in his purely abstract compositions. In 2002 Gerhard Richter became the subject of an enormous retrospective at MoMA in New York entitled Forty Years of Painting and in 2011, to coincide with Richter’s 80th birthday, a major retrospective debuted at the Tate Modern, London before touring to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Gerhard Richter resides in Cologne and despite dalliances with major artistic movements through his life has always remained resolutely independent and skeptical of philosophical and artistic ideology.

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