Panorama – Gerhard Richter @ Tate Modern

A panorama is a view over a wide area or of changing events. This is exactly what the curators of ‘Panorama – Gerhard Richter’ at the Tate Modern have shown us. Richter was born in Dresden, East Germany and located to the West in the 1960s. His style continuously changes and the exhibition is a brash display of the contrast, showing how vibrant colour splashed over ceiling high canvases can be compared with the sensitivity of black and white photorealism, with blurred edges and a dark underlay of emotion. I found this exhibition to be deeply personal as Richter has allowed the curators to see into every facet of his career, and in turn, his life.

Richter first started making art when he settled in West Germany and portrays capitalism and consumerism in black and white. This could be to show a misunderstanding of a different life or an alternative view, not everyone has the same ideals. I think this is where Richter’s use of blurred edges comes in. He questions vision, and to a lesser extent perspective and ideals. To me the subtleties that come from this kind of painting, which otherwise would be photorealistic allows his audience to ponder on the situation portrayed in the image, to understand why the image is out of focus.

Many of Richter’s early paintings were based on photographs which is clear to see from his paintings. However he alters them. On one wall we are taken aback by a the depiction of his daughter Betty, sensitive to colour, and true one can imagine, to the picture that it was taken from. Yet on the next wall, we see fuzzy images of war in black and white. The exhibition confirms to the public, that one cannot rely on Richter to do the same thing as last year, he will continue to change and surprise us, he resists to conforming to one particular style.

The affect of the war on Richter is apparent throughout his works. Painting from pictures of his family during and also portraying a different view of the Baader Meinhof. He confronts the German nazi past while offering out a different image than the police at the time. Many of the photographs submitted in the exhibition were less aggressive than those seen by the public at the time. However Richter does shock, particularly with the triptych, ‘Dead.’ Three black and white paintings, descending in size with the head of a black and white corpse.

However, Richter is not just about war and darkness. Also on display are huge canvases, covered with paint and oozing out colour. These bright abstract pieces are a clear display of sheer expressionism and he uses a squeegee for much of these canvases. Many of which show where paint has been scraped away to show a different underlay, to me this scraping away is Richter pulling away at different layers of his life, showing what he wants to conceal and what he doesn’t.

This juxtaposition between vibrant colour and the muted tones of black and white is very interesting as a viewer. I interpret the abstracts as escapism from the past and war, a depiction of a new part of life and joy. Yet a different kind of emotion is expressed in his black and white works, he is sympathetic to his past, he wants to show people. Richter himself has said ‘it is impossible to paint the misery of life, except maybe in grey.’ It is not worthy of the beauty of the joie de vivre in his squeegee inspired abstracts.

Gerhard Richter shows an alternative perspective. He remoulds himself again and again and shows how he changes as a person, as though he is letting his audience into his subconscious. The exhibition shows every component of Richter’s artistic career, ever changing and beautiful.

Gerhard Richter – Parnorama is open at the Tate Modern until 8 January

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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