Friday, September 16, 2016

Gerhard Richter's 20th-century Naturalism

Gerhard Richter
Forest (3) and Forest (4) 
installation at Tate Modern, 2011
photo by Lucy Dawkins

Gerhard Richter
Self-portrait Standing, Three Times, 17.3.1991
six gelatin silver prints on paper with oil paint
Tate Modern, London

Like the interview with Svetlana Alpers quoted earlier, the interview with Gerhard Richter from 1986 quoted today was discovered in the PAINTING anthology published in 2011 as one of the Documents of Contemporary Art from Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Gerhard Richter: I see no point in enumerating the old, lost possibilities of painting. To me, what counts is to say something; what counts is the new possibilities.

Benjamin Buchloh: But reflection on rhetoric as a specific system of language is a highly important method, especially in present-day literary criticism. That means that people have suddenly realized the importance of looking at the linguistic conventions and the rhetorical laws behind utterances that have hitherto been examined only for their content.

Gerhard Richter: Then it's just a private aberration on my part, if I always want to do something different from what I did before?

Benjamin Buchloh: Perhaps it's not an aberration but a private dilemma, a gap between possibility and aspiration, and even so an important aspect of your work. If you were just a rhetorician, in the sense of an analytical exploration of the rhetoric of painting, there would be nothing particularly interesting about it. That's work that other people can do.
   But if you refuse to see this as a rhetoric of painting, how would you define the details of the pictorial elements themselves? When one takes a look at the way elements of surface, line and color are juxtaposed in an artificial enumeration, and with this declamatory quality, or how specific techniques of the application of color are set out for all the world like a catalogue  some with a palette knife, some with a decorator's brush, some with an artist's brush, some smeared, some as direct traces, some as clouds of mist  there is something systematic about it all. As you were saying, it's all very well pondered and prepared, including enumeration, juxtaposition and combination.

Gerhard Richter
installation view, 1992
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
photo by Wilfried Petzi

Gerhard Richter: As a whole and in every detail, its effect is emotional. It sets up moods.

Benjamin Buchloh: That was the hard thing to figure out  whether it did, and, if so, what moods  when I said that the paintings curiously enough evoke no associations.

Gerhard Richter: They do set up associations. They remind you of natural experiences, even rain if you like. The paintings can't help functioning that way. That's where they get their effect from, the fact that they incessantly remind you of Nature, and so they're almost naturalistic anyhow.

Benjamin Buchloh: But of course that then has to be defined. Not naturalistic in relation to Nature?

Gerhard Richter: Only in relation to Nature, that's all we have.

Gerhard Richter
Portrait of Gerhard Richter
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden