“Abstraction is Gerhard Richter’s big theme,” says Ortrud Westheider, director of Museum Barberini in Potsdam, which means this retrospective, which deals exclusively with this part of his oeuvre, is long overdue. The result is one of the most exciting exhibitions currently on view.
The show is divided into nine thematically and loosely chronologically arranged rooms that extend over two floors.
The first room is dedicated to Richter’s early works in shades of grey. The earliest work, Curtain, dates from 1964, and in its Illusionist style it symbolises a transition from figurativeness to abstraction. Large-format Grey paintings from the 1970s, which look like a homogeneous grey surface of colour from a distance, reveal on closer inspection structures and patterns that cast delicate shadows, and thus add a certain amount of depth.
In the adjoining room, Colour Charts of various sizes await the visitor. The intense luminosity of the canvases stands in strong contrast to the grey pictures. The almost brutal sequence of the many-coloured colour fields lends the works an unexpected energy.
On the upper floor hang works from the 1970s to 2017. Rooms 3 to 5 contain large-format Detail paintings, colourful Inpaintings and early Abstract Paintings from the 1980s – among them several small-format works that, despite all abstraction, are reminiscent of landscapes on a mild summer’s evening.
In rooms 7 to 9, squeegee paintings from 1983 bewitch the viewer. Richter scrapes, blurs and paints over the surfaces, creating incredibly complex works, each one an enigma.
Room 8, however, is dominated by the computer-generated work Strip. It is several metres long and based on a section of Abstract Painting (724-4), which is in room 7.
The stand-out piece of the exhibition is probably Seven Panes (House of Cards), a complex glass work that seems to have been created specifically for the room at Museum Barberini. What a work of art! The various panes of glass appear to float in the space. Like windows they open up, yet at the same time reflect Potsdam’s bright blue summer sky. With the smallest movement of the observer, the kaleidoscopic reflections also shift: sky and St. Nicholas’ Church mix with the blurred shapes of other visitors, and the small-format works on the walls of the room, and break apart just as quickly.
By now it is difficult to be really surprised by a Gerhard Richter exhibition, but this one succeeds with astonishing ease. Many of the approximately 90 works are shown to the public for the first time, which is just one more reason not to miss Gerhard Richter: Abstraction.
The exhibition is on view until 21 October 2018 at Museum Barberini, Potsdam.