Gerhard-Richter: Drawings and Watercolours, Musée du Louvre (2012)

Gerhard-Richter: Drawings and Watercolours, Musée du Louvre (2012)


We are here at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where this exhibition is taking place in association with the retrospective
of Richter’s paintings at the Centre Pompidou. The exhibition is based on the idea that we start out from the earliest existing work on paper
– ‘Elbe’ from 1957 – and on the other end we have ‘November’, the most recent
work on paper. The exhibition has been organised with these two works
as cornerstones. Between these, we have selected what I think are examples
from characteristic periods of Richter’s work on paper, namely watercolours and drawings. We’ve covered the majority of his motifs and techniques. All this could only be done with the help of four or five collections, because we didn’t have much time. However, I think, we managed to provide an extensive overview
of Richter’s works on paper. I believe that the two mediums of painting and drawing
certainly interrelate. This is, however, only a passing reference as Richter has seldom drawn and painting is predominant within his œuvre. For Richter, the drawings were never studies for paintings, but something completely independent that took place from time to time. At the end of the 1970s there might have been a moment of doubt, a moment of change in his œuvre, when he makes reference
to his drawings and watercolours: he copies paintings in drawing or watercolour and then again paints pictures after these watercolours. It’s kind of an exchange, not in the sense of studies, but rather in that of
a translation from one medium into another. Most of the works are abstract. If he draws a figurative subject at all, then it usually
doesn’t exist in painting. It has a different status. It might be less important and more casual. It is not as carefully chosen as the motifs that Richter depicts
in his figurative paintings. The few figurative subjects he did draw, e.g. the group of balls,
steel balls, are based on actual physical metal spheres. They have always fascinated him because of the mirror motif, and this resulted in these drawings – but in these,
the mirror is no longer of any importance. There are no paintings with this subject, so one could even say that some motifs seem to appear only as either a painting
or as a drawing. I have forgotten to mention that besides ‘Elbe’ and ‘November’, a third large cycle can be seen in the exhibition: the so-called ‘Halifax’ drawings, executed in 1978, when Richter was invited to teach in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because he didn’t have the opportunity to paint, he drew instead, and a whole sequence of drawings was created. They are drawings within a drawing, images within an image. One could say that they are somehow reminiscent of classical modernism, of abstraction, of the history of abstraction in the 20th century, which Richter carefully approaches, only to rule it out again
straight away. It means that history is there, is has been considered but it is quite clear that this kind of abstraction cannot be painted or drawn any longer. I think this is a typical gesture for Richter’s work in general. Besides abstract and figurative drawings, there is a whole set of
plan and project drawings, which are perhaps less known. It’s important to keep in mind that in the 1960s project drawings had been very present in Europe, because of American minimalism
and concept art. Richter responds to that by drafting his projects in a matter-of-fact
graphic language, which might be a response to Duchamp and to the legacy of conceptual drawing in the 20th century in general. For Richter, these drawings are very useful, and again they deal
with painting, with the construction of situations for the presentation of his paintings or mirror works, which preoccupied him at the time. In 1999 a large group of drawings was executed in the light of
the first retrospective of drawings, which was to be organised by the Kunstmuseum Winterthur. These drawings – about 30 of them – show similarities to landscapes. They are all landscape formats and depict imaginary landscapes. It is remarkable how Richter draws, hatches, how he creates
not only shaded scenes but also negative images by setting highlights, by using a rubber
in order to design the sheet. One could think of many examples in the 20th century
– Alberto Giacometti or other draughtsmen – who examined the positive and negative design process of drawing through the setting and the erasing, the destruction of a mark, which can be achieved in a number of ways. I think this is a beautiful example. ‘November’ is a group of works that was created by chance and playfully. Richter dripped Indian ink on thick, very absorbent paper and was surprised by the kind of effects which emerged: the seeping through onto the reverse of the sheet and the leaking through onto further sheets. In this way, a sequence of 27 works in total, which had been treated
on both sides, was created. Richter played with the effect that the verso is a mirror image
of the recto. He produced facsimiles so that the recto and verso could be displayed next to each other. In time this quite simple and playful work became – through revision, through facsimiles – a rather complex series, in which Richter examines the relation between front and reverse, positive and negative, as well as examining reflection. It is probably characteristic of Richter that he took his time with that: he made the work, put it aside, then took it on again a few years later
to give it its current form. Here, this kind of review, of thoughtfulness, is expressed very well – this is also characteristic of his paintings. They are also never done in one go, but develop through self-criticism
and new attempts.

3 thoughts on “Gerhard-Richter: Drawings and Watercolours, Musée du Louvre (2012)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *