5 reasons to be in awe of Gerhard Richter


For more than fifty years, German artist Gerhard Richter has proven his remarkable command of almost every style and genre of painting. Here we have listed 5 reasons to admire his work.

Five reasons to admire Gerhard Richter’s work

1. To be amazed

… at how gerhard Richter can paint an exquisite object of beauty such as an orchid as well as ‘tragic’ abstract paintings.

Gerhard Richter’s Orchid 1997 is a small painting of exceptional delicacy and skill. Some seventeen years later he returned to a subject that had haunted Richter since the 1960s. Photographs taken from inside the Birkenau concentration camp were a harrowing account of the extermination of Jewish prisoners. He used them as the basis for the four-panel work, Birkenau 2014 which are sombre and dark and very powerful. Strangely, these two works define the way in which Richter oscillates between beauty and tragedy.

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Gerhard Richter, Germany b.1932 / Orchid (848-9) 1997 / Oil on aludibond / Private Collection / © Gerhard Richter 2017
Gerhard Richter, Germany b.1932 / Birkenau (937-4) 2014 / Oil on canvas / Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden, Germany. Permanent loan from a private collection / © Gerhard Richter 2017

2. To understand

… how history returns and informs our world.

A skull is a traditional symbol of death and the passing of time. Known as ‘memento mori’ (remember death) such paintings occur frequently in the history of art and often appear in periods of uncertainty or upheaval. Gerhard Richter has explored the subject on a few occasions and reminds us that, even in the contemporary world, mortality is one of the few certainties in our lives.

Gerhard Richter, Germany b.1932 / Skull (548-1) 1983 / Oil on canvas / Gerhard Richter Archive, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Germany / Long-term loan from a private collection / © Gerhard Richter 2017

3. To question

… what we understand photography to be.

When Gerhard Richter first started painting over photographs in the early 1990s he realised that these small works summarised much of what he was trying to achieve on a larger scale. By adding thick paint to the seamless ‘perfect’ surface of a photograph, the integrity of something we take for granted and habitually accept as representing reality, is compromised and thrown into question.

Gerhard Richter, Germany b.1932 / März 2003 2003 / Oil on colour photograph / Private collection / © Gerhard Richter 2017

4. To see

… things that are invisible.

Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings often appear similar at first glance. Only when we have the opportunity to see several together, do we begin to see the subtle nances and often radical differences between them. Shine 1994 is a work that appears to be largely white … or is it grey … or peach. Actually there are many slight shifts in tone and colour in this work if we take the time to look – a little like the light at dusk or dawn.

Gerhard Richter, Germany b.1932 / Shine (810-2) 1994 / Oil on canvas / ‘La Caixa’ Collection, Barcelona, Spain / © Gerhard Richter 2017

5. To think

… about painting as a language.

Gerhard Richter has said on many occasions that he distrusts the world as it is represented through photographs, the media, religion and ideologies. For him painting provides the means to apprehend the world through a language not made of words but of acts of looking, thinking, gestures, doubt and hope. Painting has a language of its own and can only be understood through resisting the temptation to describe it with words.

Compiled by David Burnett, former Curator, International Art, QAGOMA

Gerhard Richter, Germany b.1932 / Abstract painting (726) 1990 / Oil on canvas / Collection: Tate Gallery, London / © Gerhard Richter 2017

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‘Gerhard Richter: The Life of Images‘ was at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 14 October 2017 until 4 February 2018 and featured over 90 works from six decades of Richter’s career. Drawn from major museum and private collections, as well as Richter’s own personal archive, the exhibition provided a unique opportunity to view the diverse range of his exploration of painting.

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Featured image detail: Gerhard Richter Orchid (848-9) 1997

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