Unreal Nature

March 30, 2015

Trust in the Voice that Says

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

Richter caused a disturbance by quietly making paintings that resisted every attempt to fit them into existing categories or to explain them away as deliberately insincere …

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

… The position of most artists is different from that of critics, even for those artists given to concocting their own theories. For them, possibility takes precedence over reasoned necessity. For artists who must start over each day without any assurance that the success or failure of the previous day’s work will reliably indicate what comes next, possibility is the product of intuition, trial and error, and an instinctive trust in the voice that says Yes or No to each option that presents itself. This voice does not address art in general, but the artist in that moment of decision. Against this tentative sense of what can be done stands the constant threat of options suddenly being closed. This may happen as a result of misuse by others or of a restrictive codification of formerly productive uses, or it may be the consequence of the artist having used them well but, at the same time, having temporarily exhausted the freedom of maneuver they initially afforded.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But while aesthetic prognosticators are prone to declaring certain artistic practices obsolete based on their waning power in a given period, artists, whatever their public positions might be, seldom write off any possibility once and for all. On the contrary, the ability to see fresh opportunity in neglected or abandoned models is one of the basic ingredients of innovation. No serious artist downs his or her tools because historians and critics have deduced that nothing remains to be done; instead he or she may pick them up to probe for previously ignored openings. Moreover, such practitioners know that inasmuch as the value of any chosen convention cannot be disproven logically, neither can it be proven; the only thing that finally matters is whether its imaginative potential can be shown and whether the works it engenders supersede the paradigm and assume a life of their own.

… Between the first and second group of Color Charts Richter’s work manifested a previously uncharacteristic disparateness; indeed, it is from this time (1966 to 1971) that his habit of tacking from format to format against the main currents of contemporary art really can be dated. Casting about for subjects for his photo-based paintings, he turned to pornography, producing Student and Olympia of 1976 along the way, as well as his townscape and mountain pictures, among them Himalaya of 1968. In the meantime, Richter also painted the Door and Shadow paintings and the last of the Curtains, although in the final analysis, he professed his dislike for those exceptions to the use of ready-made motifs. In the midst of these big projects, he also made four small landscapes based on his own snapshots, three taken on vacation in Corsica, and a fourth, Bridge (by the Sea) of 1969.

… As modest as these landscape canvases may have seemed, at first glance, they could not have been more provocative. After all, who else in vanguard circles at that time dared to paint a holiday souvenir, much less one so enchanting or with such a picture-postcard allure. From this juncture, Richter had to deflect critics of his new direction from applying the label of neoromantic to his work. Some of them, like the dealer RenĂ© Block, were former supporters hostile to what he was doing, and some were critics who welcomed the new style, often out of a naive desire for the return of romanticism, which Richter had no interest of reviving.

[line break added] Nevertheless, even his opening the door to a reassessment of romanticism offered a serious challenge to the antipictorial, antipainting factions that dominated art discourse in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially given the fact that Richter’s landscapes themselves lacked even a hint of the kind of irony to be found in Morley’s crystalline Photo-Realist renderings of tourists and ocean liners. Nor had Richter’s sfumato been manipulated in the obvious manner of Richard Hamilton’s beach scenes, similar as those were to Polke’s raster dot pictures. Instead, Richter caused a disturbance by quietly making paintings that resisted every attempt to fit them into existing categories or to explain them away as deliberately insincere exercises in formal and pictorial anachronism.

… Whereas romantic paintings generally meet viewers halfway — usually by means of a surrogate figure in the landscape that intensifies their associations and emotions while offering to lift them out of themselves — Richter’s paintings of this type are indifferent to the viewer’s needs, acknowledging by that pointed indifference that the viewer and his or her needs exist. Thus they portray natural phenomena without symbolic amplification.

My most recent previous post from Storr’s book is here.

-Julie

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