Gerhard Richter Retrospective at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Last night I went to this amazing, huge, sprawling show. Left overwhelmed and exhausted by the fifty-year career of this artist.

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The show starts with his early (1960s) work on photographs, where he enlarged photos and then painted them, but, while the paint was still wet, used a brush to blur the edges. It is completely hard to describe, but the final effect are large-scale paintings that look like photos, only blurry… but as if there is a secret you cannot quite find there. Like this black-and-white of a tiger. Not a photo, a painting about 6×7 ft.

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Then a series of landscapes and other paintings informed by Richter’s grounding in the classical tradition of painting. And yet transcending/passing classical traditions with the absolute freshness of the way he handles his images, and the eerie photographic reality of the work.

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Then the first series of abstracts, using size/scale, color, and media in extraordinary ways.

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This one is from a series of small paintings done in enamel on glass. The colors in person are unreal, as is the edginess of the work because of the sharpness of the enamel/glass combination.

Then a roomful of portraits–and one self-portrait–that were tremendously moving and personal.

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Then a roomful of nothing but gray paintings and glass works (sculptures?) using painted and plain glass sheets or mirrors.

Then the final series, including September 11. Ten rooms: brilliant and moving and exhausting.

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Richter is clearly a man and an artist with a very, very smart brain, a sense of humor, and the willingness to take risks. And to experiment. Most of what we saw last night could be put down to an artist continually learning and re-learning his craft, and experimenting with technique and his own curiosity,  and a ruthless self-honesty.

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