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Gerhard Richters Abstract Painting 725-3 By Jason Beale (2005)

Abstraktes Bild 725-3, 1990, Oil on canvas, 225 x 200 cm (H x W) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia ____________________________________ At the National Gallery of Victoria (International) in Melbourne there is not much space for contemporary art. In two average-sized rooms on the top floor there is a meager selection of works from the last three decades. Whether by accident or design, this display resists forming a coherent narrative. This lack of certainty in the meaning of art is an appropriate context for the work of Gerhard Richter, one of the most successful and important artists of recent times. Richter (b. 1932) spent his early adult years in East Germany, where socialist realism was the official style. He moved to West Germany in 1961, at a critical moment when the purist formalism of modern art was being challenged by pop-art and conceptual movements. In response, his development as an artist has been a continuing engagement with the possibility of painting after the fall of modernism. Over the last 40 years he has painted blurred versions of photographs, questioning the status and meaning of representation itself. Since 1976 he has also produced abstract works, starkly different in appearance from his photo-paintings, yet equally mechanical in approach. Ever since postmodern theory negated the authenticity of self-expression in art, Richters work has been recognized as conceptually progressive in its detachment. Yet at the same time it manages to provide aesthetic pleasure to modernist and postmodernist alike. At eight by six feet, Abstract Painting (725-3)* is impressively big and colourful, with an appealing abstract design. Different colours have been scraped across each other orange, yellow, red, blue, and green. From the left edge, white paint is spread as if by a large squeegee. The underlying colours alternately mix with the white and break through in randomly chaotic patterns, especially at the right edge of the painting where yellow and green jostle for attention. The top and bottom edges are only roughly covered by paint, so that multiple layers of underpainting can be seen, including orange and purple that act to frame the composition. Almost as if by accident
*Richter has numbered all his works since 1962

Jason Beale

the centre of the painting is haphazardly scarred by thin vertical marks. Unlike a work of abstract expressionism, there are no purposeful gestures and no sense of artistic effort. Instead, chance has been calmly and deliberately harnessed by the artist to create a surprisingly well composed and visually dynamic work of abstraction. Richter has been described as deconstructing the rhetoric of painting (Wood 1994: 186), and his impersonal approach to process is seen as stripping painting of its metaphysical associations. Yet face to face with Abstract Painting (725-3) it has an undeniable effect as an aesthetic totality in its own right. In 1986 Richter himself described his abstractions as a search for something which I could not plan, which is better, cleverer, than I am, something which is also more universal (Richter 2003: 1152). In seeking something more universal Richter subverts his own status as a subversive postmodernist. As if confirming this, Abstract Painting (725-3) does evoke a un-nameable mood in the viewer, despite its lack of personal expression. There is a large amount of critical commentary on Richters work, which perhaps only obscures its ability to communicate directly. It is left to the viewer to relate to the painting within their own framework of expectation and understanding. In the final analysis his seemingly impersonal method leaves his work fundamentally open to interpretation, so that it is free to mean anything and nothing at the same time. This is perhaps its real significance - that it is at once both an affirmation and a calling into question of the meaning of art.

Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul (eds). 2003. Art In Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. New Edition. Blackwell: Malden MA Richter, Gerhard. 2003. from Interview with Benjamin Buchloh. In Harrison & Wood (eds). Roberts, John (ed). 1994. Art Has No History! The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art. Verso: London. Wood, Paul. 1994. Truth and Beauty: The Ruined Abstraction of Gerhard Richter. In Roberts (ed).

Jason Beale