Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild (abstract painting)

Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild (abstract painting) - image-1
Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild (abstract painting) - image-1

Gerhard Richter

Abstraktes Bild (abstract painting)

Oil on canvas. 27 x 35 cm. Verso on canvas signed, dated and inscribed 'Richter, 1988 (H.M.)', with works number '686-9'.

Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter, October 18, 1977, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 2000, p.96 with col.ill.94

Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht, Catalogue raisonné 1962-1993, of Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, vol. III, Bonn 1993, No. 686-9 with col.ill.

Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting) came about in connection with Gerhard Richter's important cycle of paintings, 18 October 1977 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in which he grappled with the events of the 1977 'German autumn', when the German state reacted to terrorist attacks by the Red Army Faction. As a model for Abstraktes Bild he employed a photograph of the dead RAF terrorist, Holger Meins (cf. Fig.) who had died in 1974 after a hunger strike lasting several weeks in protest against his conditions of imprisonment. (The RAF members, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe imprisoned in Stammheim Penitentiary in Stuttgart, and Holger Meins, who was incarcerated in Wittlich in Rhineland-Palatinate, had demanded, among other things, that they be imprisoned together.) With Abstraktes Bild, Richter had already transferred the photograph to the canvas and had later overpainted the result. The grey-and-black schemata of the original image are recognizable beneath the overpainting and join together with the white, almost pasty application of paint to form a new, autonomous composition. A total of three further versions from the cycle are known which likewise were reworked or destroyed: one version of the dead Gudrun Ensslin (Decke (Cover) 1988, private collection), a portrait of the deceased Andreas Baader and a version of Holger Meins dying of hunger.
Abstraktes Bild must be regarded as an autonomous painting which, however, at the same time documents Gerhard Richter's method of working on one of his most important work-cycles.
In the place of the original 18 paintings known in the literature, Richter finally included 15 paintings in the cycle. Although the title, 18 October 1977, initially focuses upon a concrete date, the day on which the RAF members, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe took their own lives in Stammheim Penitentiary in Stuttgart, the sequence of paintings bundles together several events, some of which are separated by years. The fifteen black-and-white paintings, each of which is based on a photograph from the press, show also a normal private photo of the young Ulrike Meinhof, whose suicide by hanging in 1976 is also thematized. Two paintings are dedicated to the arrest of Holger Meins, Jan-Carl Raspe and Andreas Baader, without, however, putting the protagonists at the centre of attention. Richter even dedicates three portraits to the still living Gudrun Ensslin, followed, with great impact, by the image of her lifeless body hanging in a window. Two paintings show the body of Andreas Baader lying on the ground after he had killed himself, and two further paintings show a view of his cell and the record player in which, allegedly, the weapon had been smuggled into his cell. Chronologically, the cycle of paintings ends with the terrorists' funeral; what is to be seen are the coffins amidst a large crowd. Beyond what is portrayed, however, the paintings imply the entire unfolding of the 'German autumn'; after all, the suicide of Baader, Ensslin and Raspe was a reaction to the miscarried hijacking of the plane in Mogadishu on the night from 17 to 18 October, just as the murder of the president of the Employers' Association, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, on the same day, is connected with these two events. These days were the dramatic climax of the 'German autumn' of 1977; and they signalled also the end of the acts of terror by the first RAF generation committed repeatedly since 1968, which had plunged the country into an internal political crisis.
When Richter's cycle was exhibited for the first time early in 1989, more than ten years later, at the Museum Haus Esters in Krefeld, the extremely violent reactions in parts of the press and public showed just how much the events at that time had shaken German society and how current and topical the process of working through them still was (cf. for more detail Robert Storr 'Introduction, Sudden Recollection' in Robert Storr Gerhard Richter 18 October 1977 exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2000 pp. 4-9). With his cycle, Richter made an important contribution to digesting German post-war history that was recognized also internationally. After the Krefeld exhibition, the paintings were shown also at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam and at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In 1995 the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased the entire cycle.
The artist was repeatedly criticized for having transformed the terrorists into martyrs with his cycle. Richter always steadfastly rejected this criticism; he had, it is true, employed photographic images with the potential to shock, but he had decidedly avoided turning those portrayed into icons. "All the paintings are muted, grey, mostly very much out of focus, diffuse. Their presence is the grey horror and the almost unbearable refusal of an answer, of an explanation and opinion. I am not sure whether the paintings 'question'; rather, they provoke protest due to their hopelessness and disconsolation, their lack of bias. (Ever since I have been able to think, I have had to recognize every rule of behaviour and every intention, insofar as they were motivated ideologically, as false, restrictive, hostile to life or criminal.)" (Gerhard Richter as quoted by Robert Storr 'The Paintings' in Robert Storr Gerhard Richter 18 October 1977 exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2000 p. 40). What is important in this connection is the role of those paintings like Abstraktes Bild that were not included in the cycle. They show very clearly the artist's critical engagement with the question concerning what can be represented and what cannot, and thus evidence a moral and ethical decision. On this Robert Storr writes, "First of all, the mention of paintings that were not included in the exhibited cycle draws attention. Of the three versions of the shot Baader, only two remain in the final selection; of the two versions of the hung Ensslin, only one was used. The painting of Meins, who had died of hunger, on his deathbed was totally excluded and later on was overpainted; the same holds true for the painting of the deceased Ensslin that likewise was not used. Whereas this painting can still be seen partially in a photograph of Richter's studio in a state prior to its overpainting, the overall disposition of the Meins painting can only be derived indirectly from a photo in the album containing the model photographs used by Richter; however traces of the painting can still be discovered at the edges of the work in its gesturally overpainted state. The layers which lie beneath these abstract paintings are not 'overpaintings' in the traditional sense, but the intact archaeological sediment of intentionally overpainted paintings. Their elimination is thus part of the content of the final works insofar as the search for new ways of making images visible, or invisible, was at the focus of Richter's entire project. Viewed in this way, the paintings that were not used in the final version comprise a kind of appendix to 18 October 1977, similar to the film cuts that have fallen away when editing a film - images which can be very interesting in themselves, but which detract from the integrity of the whole rather than contributing to it." (Robert Storr 'The Paintings' in Robert Storr Gerhard Richter 18 October 1977 exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2000 p. 40)
On his selection of paintings, Richter himself said, "No, it's not true that you can paint everything. I have hundreds of photos of Baader-Meinhof, but I can no longer paint another painting from them. I have used everything from them that I was able to." (Gerhard Richter quoted by Ortrud Westheider 'Eine Idee, die bis zum Tod geht, Der Zyklus 18. Oktober 1977' in Ortrud Westheider and Michael Philipp (eds.) Gerhard Richter, Bilder einer Epoche exhibition catalogue, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg 2011 p. 175). Richter had collected more than 200 images which today serve as an important reference source on the making of Richter's cycle.
In part, this preliminary selection is to be found in his Atlas, and partly in an album especially made for the work on the October cycle. This album contains also the model for Abstraktes Bild. Ortrud Westheider analyzed Richter's selection of photographic models and, against the background of the Triumph and Death of the Hero exhibition shown at the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Cologne in 1987, counterposed it to traditional historical painting: "Richter juxtaposed to this worn-out memorial cult a new kind of historical painting. His paintings refuse narration and instead try to dramatize the historical happenings with regard to that moment which has inscribed itself into collective memory as a traumatic experience through the media. [...] The overpainting of the painting portraying the dead Holger Meins and the fact that he had not been able to paint Jan-Carl Raspe 'lying in state' are telling. These paintings would have had the potential to show the terrorists as martyrs. By contrast, Baader lying dead on the floor of his cell had been prefigured in paintings such as The Dead Torero by Edouard Manet (1864 National Gallery of Art, Washington) that were shown in 1987 at the Cologne exhibition. The body of the deceased Ulrike Meinhof lying horizontal in the painting is reminiscent of predella portrayals. The photos of Meins and Raspe could be misunderstood as memorabilia. The photos of Baader and Meinhof, by contrast, can be recognized as part of European iconography and are thus inoculated against being absorbed into an ideological interpretation." (Ortrud Westheider 'Eine Idee, die bis zum Tod geht, Der Zyklus 18. Oktober 1977' in Ortrud Westheider and Michael Philipp (eds.) Gerhard Richter, Bilder einer Epoche exhibition catalogue, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg 2011 p. 176)

Translated from the German by Dr Michael Eldred, artefact text & translation, Cologne

Catalogue Raisonné

Elger 686-9


aquired directly from the artist; private collection, Germany


Ortrud Westheider, Eine Idee, die bis zum Tod geht, Der Zyklus 18. Oktober 1977, in: Gerhard Richter, Bilder einer Epoche, of Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg 2011, p.175 with col.ill.

Lot 690 D

150.000 € - 200.000 €

390.400 €