Gerhard Richter and the art of drawing
Spring 2020. The artist’s studio was left open, his painting oeuvre was closed. In the remoteness of his studio, Gerhard Richter now created drawings that he subjected to his self-imposed maxim: “The most fundamental, the hardest thing is to make something that is good.” This is especially true for drawings because every pentimento, every insecurity and caprice leaves traces on the paper. In this liberating environment, far removed from the rambling discourses on his life’s work, it was high time to start considering Gerhard Richter’s drawings. The focus of the Munich exhibition is on three suites of his most recent drawings. The wealth contained in this virtuoso group of works is surprising when considered in the context of his drawing oeuvre. Instead of an intermezzo it constitutes a momentous final chord.
As early as in our first conversation in July 2020, our plans for the exhibition 54 Drawings ∙ 3 Grey Mirrors ∙ 1 Sphere took shape. Right from the beginning there was no doubt that Gerhard Richter wanted to show only recent drawings he had created in the weeks before. He carefully studied the reproductions of some of his older drawings I had brought, and at times his face lit up or looked pensive. Yet he would not consider them for our exhibition. As he looked at floor plans and exhibition shots, he soon had an idea regarding the available space. Almost wordlessly he conveyed his wish that no works on paper be on display in the Vitrinengang, an enfilade of six bulky, six-foot display cases leading up to the exhibition gallery. He begged for time to think it over. Later he briefly remarked: “I see a possibility for sculpture here.” In the meantime, I was drawn to two large-scale grey mirrors in his studio, works I had admired years before at documenta IX. Spontaneously I expressed the wish to add them to the drawings. I did not hide my enthusiasm from the artist because I had nothing to lose and thought the mirrors would be the ne plus ultra.
THE CONCEPT FOR THE EXHIBITION
On my second visit a few weeks later, we finalized our initial ideas: We agreed on three suites of drawings. Two large-scale mirrors and one considerably smaller mirror in landscape format found both our approval. What we were missing was a solution for the display cases. Gerhard Richter’s unexpected question, whether I could imagine just having a sphere in one of the cases, I greeted with a ‘yes’.
Eventually we agreed on a somber serial installation, sublimated by three mirrors at the narrow front, back and middle walls. Near the entrance in the Vitrinengang one sphere was to be placed in one of the twelve otherwise empty display cases for graphic art. The surrounding monotonous space we imagined mirrored in its polished surface. The sphere would be both a provoking readymade and an ominous presence. Yet the sober presentation is misleading. With his exhibition 54 Zeichnungen ∙ 3 Graue Spiegel ∙ 1 Kugel Gerhard Richter has succeeded in a radical presentation of his latest drawings within the museum space.
MIRROR IN THE MIRROR (ARVO PÄRT)
In his Munich exhibition Richter, in confronting us with his mirrors, submits us to a similar cathartic situation. Like voids, the mirrors throw us back upon ourselves. In 1981 Richter made the following note for himself: “Polemically: degradation of all pictures; provocation of the viewer who sees himself instead of an image.” The question is no longer whether we see the drawings or not, but rather, whether we drown in our reflection, or manage to tear ourselves away from it. Those who succeed have all the time in the world to engage with the drawings in the exhibition.
With this project the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München, once again, explores the standing of drawing in the 21st century as a catalyst among the fine arts and as an existential mode of expression of human intellect and creativity.
Idee & Konzept / concept: Bernd Degner / Kamera / camera: Thomas Zothner / Ton & Schnitt / sound & cut: Jan Tauber / Graphische Bearbeitung / Graphics: B.O.A. Videofilmkunst, Gábor Bartal
Copyright: Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München 2021
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