big paintings, small review

Well, hardly even a review. But I’ve been thinking about the Gerhard Richter retrospective, Panorama, on at Tate Modern at the moment. I’ve been twice now, and there is so much to see, and the work is so varied, which is one of the things I like about Richter. The same artist can produce bleak and troubling monochromatic paintings (for example, the 18. Oktober 1977 series), then wildly colourful abstracts, or a touching portrait of his daughter. He engages with difficult subjects (Germany’s Nazi past, the Baader-Meinhof gang etc), as well as ‘Questioning painting’ (Room 11 in the current show). But of all the work on display, I’m most taken by the six Cage paintings, hung in a room of their own, and separate from the main exhibition. If you can’t or don’t want to fork out to see the whole exhibition you can wander in to see these paintings without buying a ticket.
The 2006 series of canvases was painted while Richter was listening to the music of John Cage. The text on the gallery wall tells us that Richter is ‘drawn to Cage’s rejection of intuition as well as total randomness, planning his compositions through structures and chance procedures.’ The paintings are more muted – quieter – than a lot of Richter’s earlier abstracts. Layers of paint scraped and stripped back, like mottled streaks of glue and torn poster fragments. The palette all pale yellows, creamy greys, shots of verdigris. I’m reminded somehow of Cy Twombly‘s late paintings. And that wonderful word ekphrasis comes to mind. What’s missing, what I want to hear, is Cage’s music playing in the same room, to see, and feel, how the music and the paintings interact. Music begets Kunst; creativity begets creativity.


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