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Gerhard Richter's patchwork mystery

Razia Iqbal | 17:33 UK time, Monday, 22 September 2008

gerhard226.jpgA great deal that I read about Gerhard Richter interests me.

Billed as one of the world's greatest painters, he is interested in chance. He believes in nothing. During a provocative youthful moment, he once said that now that there are no priests and philosophers, artists were the most important people in the world. His paintings sell in the high millions, and since the 1960s, he has had more than one hundred solo exhibitions around the world. And I have seen many of his paintings which have made me think, particularly some of his photography-based portraits.

But his new exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery has left me cold, and wondering about the labels of greatness attributed to him. Entitled 4900 Colours, it comprises a series of 49 paintings made up of bright monochrome squares randomly arranged in a grid formation.

So, 196 square panels of 25 coloured squares, configured differently each time using enamel paint, which has been sprayed on and then fixed onto the panels. Anyone who has encountered the children's stories about Elmer the Patchwork Elephant will be familiar with the images. There is much in the catalogue about the arbitrary distribution of colour and about uncertainty etc. Can you tell it hasn't made a big impression?

I would like to see Richter's design for the south transept window of Cologne Cathedral - destroyed during World War II and newly unveiled last year; there is a connection between this work and (from the photographs) the impressive design for the window.

I can see that in the context of a church there would be something mesmersing and possibly even spiritual about the arrangement of colours, but on the white walls of the Serpentine, for all the clever computer programming, it just felt like a cold concept.

There was though, a surreal quality to the press viewing; everyone waited for Richter to speak, but the bad sound system, and acoustics in the room meant little of what the great man said could be heard. He seemed quite uncomfortable in a public setting, though he appears not to be painting much these days, but doing a lot of putting exhibitions together and talking to the press, so you would think he would be at ease.

In a short, more intimate chat with a few journalists afterwards, he was charming, though clearly a man of few words. Given that marketing has become an art form in itself, given the hype and spin of recent weeks at auction houses, it's surprising how badly Gerhard Richter was presented.


  • Comment number 1.

    I look at these examples of 'Art' and my heart sinks with disappointment. If anyone with a spare minute on Paint on a computer will tell you these are easy to devise and do your self. If not a little tedious. I think this is not art as such, just someone who is now no longer bothered by what he puts out just happy to get the sales. Like you favourite band who after several number one hits just throw out meaningless record after record as they know it will sell and go to number one. How anyone as the cheek to say that Damien Hirst is not art I will never know! Especially when clipart like this is produced. This is only art as in the sence art products have been used to create it. The Westlife of the art world!

  • Comment number 2.

    It's a fine example of Emperor's New Clothes. If you want to see real art produced by this technique, look at contemporary quiltmaking.

  • Comment number 3.

    I do find the art disappointing in terms of content, but I'm fascinated, looking at the pixellated image, by the fact that my brain wants to find 'meaning' in the image. To me it looks like a crowd scene, viewed from a distance where individual details fade out of view, so there is a sense in which I find it visually interesting... but I'm not sure I'd be that interested in all 125 "paintings"!

  • Comment number 4.

    While I find some of his art quite visually appealing, a lot of it reminds me of Dulux colour charts or, as cranmere points out, quilts.

    As for doubleelephant's comment about interest palling after 125 "paintings", I agree wholeheartedly but must admit to feeling the same when visiting the vast collection of works by van Gogh at the Kröller-Müller museum in the Netherlands. When you've seen half a dozen versions of the Potato Eaters, you've seen them all.

  • Comment number 5.

    Looking at it gives me a headache. So i will not be looking at any more of his work!

  • Comment number 6.

    i can't help feeling that perhaps richter did not plan on these works being appreciated as a stream of similar works. like frames of an animation. yes, that is how they are exhibited but the paintings are not a single piece. you are not expected to buy all of them and view them in series. they are individual pieces.

    it sounds to me that some of the responses are along the lines of 'they only have tinned soup in the tinned soup section of this supermarket, what a lack of diversity!'

    the work isn't great, that's for sure but please, reviews of exhibitions are just that, they are not reviews of works of art.


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