Sunday, September 26, 2010
The interested viewer who knows anything at all about Gerhard Richter, that is, who has read his writings or interviews with him, is faced with something of a quandary upon entering an exhibition of his, especially one devoted to his drawings. There's currently one such at The Drawing Center in Soho, comprising about 50 works, mostly in graphite but also several watercolors and pen drawings.
Richter disdains drawing and all the adjectives piled on it since time immemorial: graceful, textured, felicitous, delightful and such. He resents and questions its relationship to art. He inserts a pencil into a drill bit in 1966 so as to eliminate human control over the marks that result. He scribbles and he copies photographs exactly, in the same month, attempting to negate the difference between them, to obviate any notion of beauty.
One looks at these drawings and the overwhelming thing, the words that reverberate in one's skull are: This guy can fucking draw! No matter what he does, this extraordinary visual sense wins out, breaking past any barriers he attempts to place in its way. These drawings simply look stunningly beautiful.
There are 15-20 small graphite drawings done around 1999, about 8 x 10 inches, that one can't help but view as abstract landscapes or cityscapes (goodness knows Richter's done many a landscape in his realist persona) and to a one, they're amazing, could be looked at for hours. The variation in tone, the distribution of ultra-dark dots, often evoking musical scores, smudged grays, spidery lines and frequent use of erasures is just dazzling and extremely sensuous. They're all (I believe) horizontal, and often possess something of a horizon line, so that one sees essences of clouds, streetlights, grime, buildings, headlight halos etc., but in a kind of dream state, fractured, deflated or inflated, vaporized.
The four large drawings done in 2005, one of which is reproduced above, have a quasi-similar vertical structure, a very architectural feel, but also a vast amount of freedom, a strong sense that Richter felt free to introduce any element, any technique, that the underpinning was rigorous enough to support most anything. (More than once, contrary to, *ahem*, certain IHM posters, I felt a decided kinship to aspects of eai)
The watercolors are also fascinating, apparently created via the flow of thickly imbued water over smooth paper. He manages to keep things from muddying (no mean trick, that), resulting in a dense overlay of colors, almost foliage-like in effect.
But one keeps coming back to the drawings, reveling in the immense wealth of detail and the relationships between forms. There's an enormous amount going on in each; one stands there for 15 minutes looking at a single example and just sees more and more. So rich.
Perhaps the weight of art history simply overwhelms Richter, casting aside his objections, forcing his wonderful eye to the fore. No complaints from this observer.