Unreal Nature

January 12, 2018

Looking Drives Us Where It Will

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… He keeps picking them up and putting them down again.

This is from the essay ‘Reading Pictures — Possible Access to Gerhard Richter’s Atlas‘ by Helmut Friedel found in Gerhard Richter: Atlas: The Reader (2012):

The teller of a story is at the same time not the teller. The story as such is the real teller, and all tellers know that. — Harry Mulisch, De Procedure, Amsterdam, 1998

… The characteristic of a storyteller or a writer described above can be transferred without further ado to the artist, to the painter Gerhard Richter. It applies especially to the case of Atlas, in which Richter laid out a sequence of pictures that can be ‘read’ in many directions.

Next is from the essay ‘Slow Developer’ by Adrian Searle in the same book:

… It goes on: country lanes winding between cornfields, corpses piled on the road with vultures waiting. Mothers and babies and a food-spattered toddler trapped in his high chair. Innocent things: a toilet roll dangling in cool morning light, an acrobat diving, stags at bay. And guilty things: two women doing something with a cucumber, a man doing something to another woman with a length of pipe, a woman sucking a man’s penis, a Nazi hanging a boy who has something almost like a smile on his face. Humiliated Jews, the camps.

[line break added] Emaciated victims in the hut, touched up with vivid happy colors. Photos of trains going by near the artist’s studio in Cologne. Is it now possible, in Europe, to watch trains without thinking where the lines once led? Is it possible to look at so many images — whether mundane, or titillating and pornographic, or inhuman and horrific and filled with despair — without becoming aware of just how much we like to look, that looking drives us where it will, that we keep on looking?

… Always preoccupied with questions of subject matter, and of manner and genre, Richter has continually asked himself the most basic and fundamental questions an artist, working alone in his studio, can ask: questions of what to paint as much as how to paint. These, one might say, are the first things an artist might ask right at the beginning of a career. They are the questions a child often asks: what shall I paint, what shall I draw? That the artist, now in his 70s, is still faced with what I regard as an existential as well as a creative problem is one of the keys to his art, as well as being its submerged subject.

… Walking among the banked grids of Atlas, one has a growing sense of their proliferation, of Richter’s logic and also of the randomness and multiplicity of the world, its intractability. But there is also a growing sense of Richter brooding, brooding over the images that have made their way into Atlas. It is a dark undercurrent in his art. Richter’s fellow East German and contemporary, Sigmar Polke, seems to me to evince the opposite in his art, a kind of hysteria.

… What Atlas shows us … is an artist committed not to his own aggrandisement or to bolstering society, but pitted, rather, against indifference, and against the numbness of the world. He is also, in a certain kind of way, fiercely mistrustful of images and what they convey. Some photographs, especially those of the Holocaust, are irreducible, and perhaps unpaintable in themselves. He keeps picking them up and putting them down again. You can tell he is in there, thinking them through and unable to think about them. When we look at them, we do the same. And do our own brooding.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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