Unreal Nature

March 16, 2015

Something New Creeps In

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

” … something new creeps in, whether I want it to or not: something that even I don’t really grasp.”

Continuing through Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… “I have nothing to say,” Cage wrote, “and I am saying it.” Richter, who has quoted that phrase, was plainly impressed by Cage, but there is a brooding quality to Richter’s work — as well as an obvious, if vague moral dimension — that departs from Cage’s more optimistic disengaged model. Nevertheless, before delving into the the much-vexed question of photography’s special status as a modern medium, it is important to say that its initial value to Richter seems primarily to have been the opportunity it gave him to turn Cage’s formulation around and talk about — or represent — everything without stepping forward to say anything and, by that means, to access many of the same artistic freedoms, beginning with the freedom from self that Cage preached.

Richter’s preoccupation was with the iconography of the everyday. Implicit in this was the pathos indelibly marked by use. Rather than emphasize the photograph’s lowliness or meagerness, Richter sought to dignify it, not by making it more glamorous or more aesthetic, but by respecting it for what it is and showing that. “Perhaps because I’m sorry for the photograph,” he explained, “because it has such a miserable existence even though it is such a perfect picture, I would like to make it valid, make it visible.” Behind this declaration is a commitment to the visible from one of the most demanding of contemporary artists — and, beyond that, a belief in the shared experience of the visible — which should not be taken lightly in a context where attacks on “visuality,” “opacity,” and the very possibility of communicating directly through the senses are staples of postmodernist discourse. As to the images in the paintings themselves, it was not the chair in the Berges showroom that mattered to him — one of many on display, as in Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles — but the one in a hundred that sits in the corner and acquires the patina of all things lived with, while emitting the cold aura of all things devoid of innate vitality. Asked by an interviewer what function the subjects of his realist paintings had, Richter simply said, “sympathy.” Caught off guard by the answer, the interviewer inquired about his painting of a common chair, and he replied: “It is our chair, which we use. It is really pitiable and very banal, but it has a mood.”

Richter_KitchenChair
Kitchen Chair, 1965

The mood or ambiance of Kitchen Chair of 1965 is stark and cold, but is it also haunting. Had Richter set out to make a ghostly object he might fairly be accused of having cheated on his commitment to remove Expressionism, Symbolism, and other aesthetic overlays from his work. In actuality, however, there are no obvious stylistic interventions to account for this effect. Richter says: “Even when I paint a straightforward copy, something new creeps in, whether I want it to or not: something that even I don’t really grasp.”

My previous post from Storr’s book is here.

-Julie

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