Richter’s artistic achievements vacillate between pure abstraction and a reconstructed form of realism. His realistic paintings, based primarily on personal photographs and images from newspapers, range in subject matter from the banal, like rolls of toilet paper, to the extremely potent, such as famous Nazi “doctor” Werner Hyde. The paintings have in common an emotional remove; the re-creating of photographic images points us toward our own possible emotional detachment to the influx of images in the world. A blurred chair, Jackie Kennedy, burning candles, family portraits—Richter lays them all out before us as if to say, Here, they are all the same. The insightful text by MoMA curator Robert Storr provides an in-depth look at Richter’s life in postwar Germany, tracing the influences and environment that made his work possible.
Richter is by many considered a “conceptual painter” whose “paintings are statements about ideas for paintings”. Richter himself said that he wanted to express “the inadequacy in relation to what is expected of painting” through his art, the inadequacy of the making of images and the critical examination of it. He is considered a master of “deconstruction” of formal conventions of painting. He kept a “skeptical distance from vanguardists and conservatives alike regarding what painting should be”. According to Storr, all of Richter’s works point toward “the basic loss of bearings”; he is “an image-struck poet of alertness and restraint, of doubt and daring”. Whatever your interpretation of Gerhard Richter’s oeuvre may be, he is a major contemporary artist.