Gerhard Richter in Zurich – he paints as if he were taking photos – culture



Landscape painting? That sounds like the 19th century. But Gerhard Richter’s art is not a bit of yesterday.

Gerhard Richter was already painting figuratively when everyone else was on the way to abstraction or conceptualism. The German painter has long been considered one of the most important contemporary artists.

Now the Kunsthaus Zürich is dedicating an exhibition to Gerhard Richter. More precisely: his landscapes.

From a distance, like photos: Gerhard Richter’s landscapes

Art of urban escape

Landscape painting sounds like the 19th century. That is not by accident. The 19th century rediscovered the landscape in the arts – in a countermovement to industrialization and urbanization.

Richter discovered the landscape as a subject when he fled the GDR to the West in 1961. He had already studied in Dresden and was a recognized artist in East Germany. In the FRG he started all over again and enrolled at the Düsseldorf Art Academy.

While the German art scene around him was looking for new abstract or conceptual forms of expression, Richter took up brushes and oil paint and painted. Landscapes became a big topic for him.

Longing and irony

With his return to the landscapes of the Romantics, Richter deliberately set himself apart from his contemporaries, says Cathérine Hug, co-curator of the exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

Gerhard Richter’s interest in the Romantics is clearly visible in pictures that show the mountain panorama near Davos or a view of Mount Vesuvius. The 1981 painting “Ice” with its rugged ice floes floating in the water is reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s sea of ​​ice.


Gerhard Richter, «Ice», 1981

© Gerhard Richter / Ruth McLoughlin Collection

The blurring, which has become a trademark of Richter, emphasizes the approximate and nourishes the longing. A promise of transparency resonates.

A promise that Richter always leaves open, as curator Cathérine Hug says. «Richter breaks the audience’s expectations with irony. This becomes very clear in the picture “Ruhrtalbrücke”, where a motorway bridge crosses the picture. ”


Gerhard Richter, “Ruhrtalbrücke” 1969

© Gerhard Richter / Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Collection Services

Look over shoulder

The romantics would probably rub their eyes if they could see these painter descendants who cut through the dreamy gaze to the wide horizon with a motorway bridge.

Visitors to the exhibition will perhaps admire the light hand with which Richter brings vast distances and bold bridges onto the canvas. And they can also look over his shoulder. An excerpt from a documentary makes it possible.

St. Gallen in a thunderstorm of colors

The subject of landscape not only preoccupied the young artist, it runs through Richter’s life’s work. The exhibition follows suit and traces Richter’s changing handling of the subject.

It shows abstract landscapes. Pictures with which Richter fathoms out how far he can go in abstraction so that in the end landscapes can still be recognized. And it can go very far.


Gerhard Richter, “Seestück (See-See)”, 1970

© Gerhard Richter / bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB / Jörg P. Anders

He paints park landscapes that look like green oases from a distance and disintegrate into abstract surfaces and lines when you get closer. He paints a gray “seascape” that one could call monochrome – if it weren’t for the strong brush marks that make one think of wind and waves.

Gerhard Richter’s abstractions

He paints a view of the city of St. Gallen – a thunderstorm of paint almost seven meters wide that looks as if he has been looking at the city from a speeding car.


«Sankt Gallen», 1989

© Gerhard Richter / University of Sankt Gallen

Above the clouds

Richter’s landscapes are landscapes of thought. And landscapes of ideas. This is especially true for the fictional constructions in which both the sky and the sea consist of clouds or of moving water.

You see the pictures, know that it is not possible and yet you understand them. Because, according to curator Cathérine Hug, what we understand by landscape is always a construction.

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