As part of our interest in revitalizing art criticism and theory, in giving them both sharp edge and broad, encompassing vision, the Rail has initiated this column.
We invite art critics, art historians, and artists to voice insights and critical reflections on the nature of art, its history, and its relationship to our current social and political surroundings. This is intended to be an ongoing dialogue, and we urge you to participate.
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re: re: Gerhard Richter’s War Cut
I’m writing in response to the recent exchange between Robert Storr and Dore Ashton despite my limited knowledge of their scholarship. I suspect what separates their views regarding Gerhard Richter is a generational gap though they do share a common high esteem for Philip Guston. I’m a young painter, just finishing my MFA. In my work, I’ve drawn heavily on both abstract and representational traditions. At one point Richter had a very strong influence on me and as a result I feel compelled to reply.
Every period, for better or worse, presents us with an artist whose work is highly identified with his time. In this sense, Richter’s work is an indispensable contribution to painting and, as such, an appeal to the necessary changes in the language of art. The emotionless presence and lack of inner structure in his painting seem a summary of so much postwar European painting previous to Richter’s own – the work of Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages, Georges Mathieu, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron and others working in the shadow of Abstract Expressionism. Richter’s impeccable finish and artificial color seem particularly contemporary, the precursors of so much abstraction being made today.
Yet, like Ms. Ashton, I find the great claims made for Richter somewhat unsettling. There have been painters such as Degas, de Kooning, Francis Bacon, and Leon Golub who utilized photography for specific needs in their work: enhancing expressionistic pathos and compositional dynamics. While I find Richter’s black and white paintings of the Baader-Meinhof function similarly, his output as a whole is more mechanical than any of the artists mentioned above. From his landscape translations of postcard and snapshot imagery to his repertoire of abstract deconstructions his work seems strategically processed. Here I regret that the issues raised by the New York School and its successors are a less common currency among young artists than is familiarity with Richter’s painting.
I realize I may be succumbing to the New York School provincialism of which Mr. Storr spoke. I certainly do not wish to lie at Richter’s feet the responsibility for whatever changes in the art world might alter my thinking. I acknowledge a great deal of merit in Richter’s endeavor despite the fact that my own leanings as a painter sway me in other directions. Yet I feel, in general, artists must bear a substantial responsibility for the light in which their art is seen. I hope to see Richter’s work situated relative to, not above and beyond, the tradition from which it grows.
Thank you both for your passionate dialogue.