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April 20 2013

Gerhard Richter – Galerie Ludorff at Art Cologne 2013

At its booth at Art Cologne, Galerie Ludorff (Duesseldorf) presents a selection of works by German artist Gerhard Richter. In this conversation with Bettina Krogemann, Manuel Ludorff talks about the exhibition at the fair, and the Gerhard Richter show at the gallery in Düsseldorf (in German language).

Gerhard Richter – Galerie Ludorff at Art Cologne 2013. April 18, 2013.

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December 30 2011

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November 27 2011

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art From Germany

Saatchi Gallery, London

All credit to Charles Saatchi. He has bought (and sold) enough international art of late to mount museum-scale shows that bring entire nations into some kind of focus for a British audience. He began with America, then moved to China, India and various countries of the Middle East and is now exhibiting the work of 24 artists from Germany on all three floors of his gallery.

Gesamtkunstwerk represents Saatchi's purchasing power too, of course: his recent outlays, risks and bets. It takes a sharp interest in the market; you might say it depicts the market to some extent. But it also offers an experience of contemporary art that few of us will see without travelling to Berlin at least, and it's one in the eye for Tate too, being the kind of show that none of our public museums can afford.

By coincidence (or perhaps not?) Saatchi is showing a predominantly young German scene just as Tate Modern is showing the old, in the person of Gerhard Richter, whose works Saatchi collected long ago. Strangely, there is no crossover. Richter's immense influence over succeeding generations – his intellectualism, his historical reach, the meditative depth of his photo-based paintings – is nowhere apparent at the Saatchi Gallery. This art goes in different directions altogether.

So that is something to bear in mind if you're looking for a comprehensive survey. A strong and enduring strain of German art has been bypassed in favour of works large or loud enough to fill these palatial rooms. The paintings are the size of billboards and fully as blatant. The sculptures rise high or sprawl by the metre along the floor. The predominant look is trashy, heavy-handed, wilfully unbeautiful and chaotic.

Huge black balloons (by Thomas Zipp) use up all the available airspace between floor and ceiling in one room. It takes Andro Wekua 170 panels of glazed ceramic to summon a crude sunset, cinema-scale, in another. I liked Max Frisinger's enormous vitrines crammed with contemporary junk – a world of consumer goods artfully assembled so that they almost seem to have a meaning at which one guesses, nose pressed against the glass, becoming a window-shopper in turn – but less is indeed more, for one vitrine was enough.

Junk predominates as both material and metaphor. Many of these artists, especially those born in the 1970s, belong to what's been described as the post-po-mo generation, wandering about in an age of vacuity and defeat, making work (this is the spin) that defies the ghosts of 20th-century German culture.

And there is resistance here, to be sure. André Butzer certainly doesn't want to be liked at all. His monumental canvases, with their scribbly allusions to German and American pop culture, violently worked in garish impasto, are an all-out affront. A Halloween mask, a bit of wonky ab-ex: a canvas can look nearly abstract but still have "Hitler-Cornflakes" lettered up the edge so there is no escaping the sly sententiousness of his work.

Ida Ekblad literally works with junk: bent, flattened or embedded in concrete and upended to resemble a slab of pavement displayed like a picture on the wall. She doodles in scrap metal, sculpts in any old iron. One rusting form rises in twists and turns, parodying early modernism, as it seems, but then she caps the joke with a dirty towel dangling bathetically from the top.

The art in Gesamtkunstwerk is ostentatiously handmade. Anselm Kiefer's gray canvases are pastiched (by Butzer) in mocking fingerpaint. Huge collages are laboriously assembled (by Kirstine Roepstorff) from scraps and glitter. Alexandra Bircken builds shelters from branches draped with old rags, in the tradition of Isa Genzken (ex-spouse of Gerhard Richter).

Genzken (born 1948) is something of a mother figure here. A whole gallery is devoted to her junk towers, teetering columns of old shoes, fake flowers, battered toys and old master reproductions. Some people find these melancholy, others comical; to me they are deliberately evasive. There are other senior Germans on show – Georg Herold, for instance, represented by two stick-figure odalisques that ingeniously combine drawing and sculpture – but Genzken is the presiding influence, with her lo-fi gaffer-taped aesthetic.

And this is a problem with Saatchi's nation-based shows. No matter how superbly installed – and even the weakest piece looks briefly plausible here – the art hasn't the space to speak on its own terms. Similarities, as opposed to singularities, emerge.

Clearly this is not a definitive cross-section of contemporary German art. It excludes the biggest names – Anselm Kiefer, Thomas Schütte, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Scheibitz, Neo Rauch, all shown by Saatchi years ago – in favour of new blood. But even then it represents something quite particular – namely Saatchi's own tastes, which have in the past tended to the slick, the epigrammatic, the gimmicky and the novel; above all, the immediately recognisable look.

So you have the Tobias twins, Gert and Uwe, painting quirky discs and biomorphs in bright colours – a bit Klee, a bit Miró – except that they turn out to be woodcuts applied to mural-length canvases. Or Jeppe Hein's mirror painting that vibrates at your approach. Or the large-scale model that features in almost all Saatchi shows – in this case Zhivago Duncan's post-apocalyptic mountain range through which tiny trains, planes and automobiles chug and whirl on miniature tracks; toy art, fun to gawp at.

The work here is stuff, and treated like stuff. You pick your way through the assortment – geopolitics, gender politics, crass comedy – in a spirit of curiosity. So this is what they are doing in Stuttgart or New York (some of the German artists live abroad; some of the German-based artists are American or Scandinavian).

Everything slides out of mind as you stroll, leaving one thing behind for the next, homing in on something, side-stepping something else. It is the gallery equivalent of shopping.

And if Gesamtkunstwerk represents anything at all, it is the market: contemporary art that is still emerging in the commercial sector, passing through the biennale phase or, with luck, on its way to a private collection or museum. This show may or may not help it on its way, who knows. But it is unlikely to come to rest with Charles Saatchi. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 15 2011

Tacita Dean: Film; Wilhelm Sasnal – review

Turbine Hall, Tate Modern; Whitechapel Gallery, London

You'd have to be blind not to notice that, from a distance, Tacita Dean's commission for Tate Modern's sepulchral Turbine Hall looks like nothing so much as a vast stained-glass window – and for this reason I fervently hoped it was going to have the same effect on me as Olafur Eliasson's numinous The Weather Project (Eliasson's commission, the fourth in the Unilever series, filled this space in 2003-4 – and oh, how I worshipped it).

A flickering, flaming 11-minute silent colour film, Dean's installation, complete with sprocket holes and random filter flashes, was made using a CinemaScope lens turned through 90 degrees, and is projected on to a vertical screen 13 metres high. In other words, its scale alone is enough to cow the visitor, and from 50 paces. Like some hungry peasant suddenly confronted with the exquisite manipulations of the medieval architect, your first inclination, as the eyes adjust, is simply to believe.

But this faith is misplaced, and fleeting: illusion not epiphany. Move closer, sit down and watch, and the jaw clamps shut again, awe turning first to disappointment, then to irritation. I have no argument with Dean's guiding impulse; her piece is intended to mourn and to celebrate celluloid at a time when 16mm film is no longer even printed in the UK. But I am amazed that it didn't lead her to produce something more interesting and beautiful than this. Film, with its assorted images of escalators, toadstools and a snail lurking on a leaf, isn't just banal (do I need to point out that when it comes to the passage of time, these metaphors have all been used a thousand times before?), it is fatally boring. Ripe tomatoes, mullioned windows, a tree, an egg, a clock... only because I wrote these things in my notebook do I remember them at all.

In a commentary on the work, Dean states that "Film is a visual poem", a remark I thought dubious even before I saw her fountains plash and her lightbulbs glow: likening other art forms to poetry is a cliche, the first and the last refuge of the shallow thinker. Afterwards, though, I thought it fraudulent too. What she has produced, however lovingly, however laboriously (she slices her prints by hand, alone at a Steenbeck cutting table), is more list than poem – and the trouble with lists is that even as they remind you of your obligations, they are so eminently resistible.

You might say that Dean's work is all technique and no content. Well, at the Whitechapel Gallery you can see a show where something approaching the opposite is the case. At his worst, Wilhelm Sasnal, the preposterously successful Polish artist, produces canvases that remind me of a certain kind of 70s album cover; his work can feel overly broad, naive, unfinished and hurried (he likes to paint quickly, often finishing a piece in a single day). I can't help but wonder just how good a painter he really is. But he has big things to say about politics, faith and community, and for this reason the Whitechapel's new exhibition of his work is both fascinating and bleak, the weight of 20th-century history bearing down on every wall of every room. It also works – what serendipity – as an interesting pendant to the unbeatable Gerhard Richter retrospective currently at Tate Modern. Sasnal belongs to a different generation from Richter; born in 1972, he is half his age. But both knew life under communism, and both have an unblinking relationship with the Holocaust, a catastrophe they simply will not ignore, not even in the peace of their studios. Sasnal has used the grey palette so often favoured by Richter; he, too, paints from photographs; and he flips easily between the abstract and the figurative, even if not with quite the same facility as his master. It's extraordinary to see. Talk about the anxiety of influence.

The show takes in paintings from 1999 until the present day, with the earlier work in two rooms upstairs. I understand why the curator decided to let people see the most recent paintings first; Sasnal's latest work is certainly the more colourful and, perhaps, the more accessible. The hope must be that visitors see Bathers at Asnières (2010), his interpretation of Seurat's painting of the same name, and feel a welcome connection (the copy's cloistered simplicity is a way of reminding his audience that until Sasnal was 17, when Solidarity was re-legalised, travel to London, where Seurat's original hangs, would have been all but impossible).

But I prefer the earlier work, which painfully embraces the fact that Kraków, where Sasnal is based, is not only close to Auschwitz, but once had its very own concentration camp (Kraków-Płaszów): the small painting Shoah (A Forest), from 2003, in which three figures are made miniature by the swirls of green (are these leafy branches kindly or malevolent?) all about them; the scenes from Art Spiegelman's Holocaust comic book Maus, which Sasnal painted large scale and without speech bubbles by way of a riposte to those Poles who couldn't deal with its implications (these paintings – bunks seen through wire, a pig in a peaked cap – somehow need no explanation, even if you have not read Spiegelman); and, most of all, a landscape called Kielce (2003), in which briars and brambles are piled high on old snow, like knives, or bodies. Kielce is a Polish city where, in 1946, Polish antisemites attacked Holocaust survivors, killing 42.

Sasnal cannot let go of these themes. He wants to pay attention to other crises – more recent subjects include a Palestinian farmer, an Iranian nuclear power plant, and African migrants – but events closer to home haunt him. Downstairs hangs his most recent work, completed this year. It is a landscape: low, green fields surround a sprawling white construction which, the title reveals, is in fact a pigsty. When Sasnal showed this piece to his family, his father asked him if it was Auschwitz. It isn't hard to see why. The crazily lush fields, though they make up two thirds of the canvas, are an irrelevance. It is the hunkered buildings you wonder about, and knowing that they house animals somehow only makes you feel worse. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

My Frieze week - in pictures

It's the biggest week in Britain's art calendar when thousands of visitors come to check out the fair and London's galleries unleash their big guns. Art-world figures, including artists Tracey Emin and Polly Morgan, pick their highlights from Frieze 2011 and the dozens of other shows across the capital

October 13 2011

Gerhard Richter in the studio – video

Tate director Nicholas Serota meets Gerhard Richter in his studio in Germany to talk about his influences and methods of working

October 12 2011

Museum of masterpieces

From Kristin Scott Thomas's Parisian scene to Philip Pullman's much-loved Monet, celebrities and big names in the art world talk us through their favourite works

October 07 2011

TV highlights 07/10/2011

The Culture Show | Rostropovich – The Genius Of The Cello | Autumnwatch 2011 | Criminal Minds | A League Of Their Own | Chris Addison: My Funniest Year

The Culture Show
7pm, BBC2

Another week, another eclectic collection of reports from the arts show, which this week visits Glasgow. Top of the bill is host Andrew Graham-Dixon interviewing Grayson Perry, who's lately curated an installation of new works mixed up with objects drawn from the British Museum collection. Mark Kermode discusses We Need To Talk About Kevin with its director Lynne Ramsay, Simon Armitage celebrates National Poetry Day, and critic Michael Collins considers representations of working-class characters in the theatre. Plus, choreographer Akram Khan and the work of artist Gerhard Richter. Jonathan Wright

Rostropovich – The Genius Of The Cello
7.30pm, BBC4

The cello is the closest orchestral instrument to the human voice in its range of expression. It has achieved a pre-eminence in the classical repertoire, growing throughout the 20th century. Much of this is to do with the tireless brilliance of the late Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. This profile, rich with footage, depicts a man whose energy and lust for life, as well its joys and sadnesses, informed his playing, and whose excessiveness broke the banks of mere virtuosity. David Stubbs

Autumnwatch 2011
8.30pm, BBC2

Once a week for eight weeks, Autumnwatch will be hoping something happens. Presenters Chris Packham, Martin Hughes-Games and Michaela Strachan will be travelling the country to try to catch wildlife in action. The live locations include the wetlands at Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire, where kingfishers, otters and 35,000 wildfowl are all potential stars, and the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, which will probably be worth a visit for the stunning seasonal colours alone. Martin Skegg

Chris Addison: My Funniest Year
11.10pm, Channel 4

Addison takes to the stage of the Hackney Empire to deliver a live clip show based around his favourite year. His comedy odyssey takes us back to 2001, when Bush Jr came to power and ITV's Popstars gave us Hear'Say. News footage shows the year to be not that funny at all, with the twin towers falling and mass culling of foot and mouth-infected livestock, but this just gives Addison a chance to deploy the stockpile of gags he's had a decade to gather. Phelim O'Neill

Criminal Minds
9pm, Sky Living

A show based around the FBI's behavioural analysis unit, which psychologically profiles killers. For this seventh season, Criminal Minds departs forensic reality for a slightly far-fetched fantasy. Last series, it seemed that team member Emily Prentiss was a goner – stabbed in the abdomen by her arms-dealer former lover. How straightforward that would have been. In fact, Prentiss is alive, and hiding out in Paris until she finds an opportune moment to rejoin the unit. Fun stuff – and look out for Mad Men's Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) guest-starring as a member of a senate committee. John Robinson

A League Of Their Own
10pm, Sky1

While its antecedent, They Think It's All Over, managed to show the surprisingly sharp side of sporting figures such as David Gower and Steve Davis, A League Of Their Own merely plays down to expectations. Team captains Andrew Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp, though likable enough, aren't terribly interesting, leaving the burden of entertainment on James Corden and his interchangeable support staff of panel-show comics, which, for this fourth series, includes Jack Whitehall, Jason Manford and Lee Mack. Gwilym Mumford © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 03 2011

Tenderness and terror

Portraits of his daughter, paintings of killers, a study of a toilet roll … the Tate's Gerhard Richter retrospective is full of surprises. Adrian Searle wants more

Walking through Panorama, Tate Modern's Gerhard Richter retrospective, is like turning the dial on an old radio. Things erupt from the static as you swim between stations. Suddenly there is a voice, a garbled news broadcast, a shrill single tone, a story being told, music, then silence. Little wonder Richter admires John Cage; following Cage's dictum, Richter is a painter who professes to have nothing to say, then says it.

Whenever you think of Richter as one kind of artist, he turns out to be another. However bewildering this can be, there is a consistent tone of voice, whatever his subjects. It is something much more than style: here's a skull, some morbid candles, a flayed abstraction; how about some white fluffy clouds, isolated in their painted skies? At 80, Richter still surprises me. His continuing inventiveness and constant doubt, the variety and stern pleasures of his work give me a bleak sort of hope. This is hard to explain. I do not know what that hope entails.

The present exhibition is more than a blow-by-blow account of Richter's development since 1961, when the artist, by then a successful young mural painter, crossed from East Germany to the west and re-embarked on a career full of interesting confusions, cross-currents, contradictions and detours. The exhibition makes a kind of cumulative sense. (The longer Richter works, the more sense his art makes.)

Recently, an old friend in Dresden rediscovered some monoprints Richter left behind when he departed for the west. The work of an afternoon or two, these prints seem to prefigure what followed, with their rollered ink fields, blobs and full moons, little figures, indeterminate greys where the ink ran out.

Curated by Nicholas Serota and Mark Godfrey, this show sets up all sorts of telling juxtapositions, while following the thread not just of Richter's thinking, but of history – and in particular German history – since the second world war. We go from the saturation bombing of Dresden and Cologne to 1960s West German consumerism, from 1970s domestic terrorism to 9/11. There are paintings devoted to Richter's parents, his aunts and uncles, and what happened to them in wartime. There are paintings devoted to his children, and to becoming a father again in his 60s. He confronts the personal with the public, one kind of history with another.

Often Richter's paintings are based on photographs: his father Horst, moon-faced with jutting-out hair, cradling a dog; smiling Aunt Marianne with the infant Gerhard, looking less than happy. Richter's maternal aunt was mentally ill, eventually institutionalised, and killed in the Nazi's eugenics programme. Here's Uncle Rudi, the grinning soldier in his great coat, dead in the first days of the war. On another wall, in glowing colour, a group of Nubians, whose image comes from a Leni Riefenstahl photograph. And there two couples, almost naked, enjoy the freedoms of the permissive age. My God, I think, looking from picture to picture, how the world turns. Almost the first thing you see in the show is a painting of a man crushed to death by a great block of stone. Tote, it says on the canvas: dead. Images and symbols of death keep coming back, even in the blankness of Richter's most mute abstractions.

That's one way of telling the story. His art also reflects his encounters with other artists: Joseph Beuys, a side-on painting of an old chair, like the one Beuys sat a wedge of fat upon; and Marcel Duchamp, a painting of Richter's first wife, naked, walking downstairs, in memory of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. Nearby hangs a little grisaille study of a roll of toilet paper dangling on a wall, a distant joking recall of Duchamp's urinal. Why not a bog roll? It has a dumb kind of everyday presence, as much as Manet's sticks of asparagus or Chardin's cloves of garlic. It hangs there, waiting, with as much or as little dignity as anything else. Richter sees it with a careful, affectless eye.

A tourist eaten by a lion

Caspar David Friedrich's German Romanticism, Titian's Venetian colour, constructivism and postwar gestural painting, minimalism and process art are all grist to Richter's mill. His 1973 Annunciation After Titian is a reworking from a postcard of the original, while the impossibility of Friedrich's Romanticism returns time and again in Richter's seascapes and his Greenland photographs. "I was always looking," he once said, "for a third way, in which eastern realism and western modernism would be resolved into one redeeming construct." If this remains Richter's programme, it is one riven with the irreconcilable, a friction on which his art depends.

And let's not forget his photographs and sculptures, his clear and painted planes of glass, his mirrors and polished metal spheres, which also act as convex mirrors. In Richter's case, it is not a matter of doing this then that, or of choosing to be a landscape painter, or a photographer of icebergs in the mist, or a squeegee-wielding producer of giant, scaly abstracts. It's a case of making choices that don't exclude their opposites.

Richter paints blurred scenes of violence: a tourist being eaten by a lion in a safari park, as well as harmonic colour grids. He is as capable of a tender painting of his daughter as of an impenetrable, sticky grey monochrome. His 1988 portrait of Betty, turned away from the viewer, is looking towards one of her father's sludgy monochromes, which becomes the portrait's background. We follow her gaze, too. It makes me think that certain paintings might well be seen as backgrounds, in front of which things pass. Richter is always thinking about the different degrees of attention we give to things from one moment to the next, things swimming in and out of view, hovering distantly. A broken smear of red welling up through a layer of greeny-blue paint inhabits the same discontinuous universe as a view down an alley to a cathedral wall, hit by sunlight.

I almost wish this exhibition were larger; as it is, Panorama is probably as good a retrospective as we are likely to see, given the loans it is possible to get, and the fact that Richter is still working. It is unlikely that he will settle for a late grand manner, especially when he has so many manners to choose from. Richter himself might be surprised by what comes next, and by what it might mean for what came before.

Will our children die horribly?

You might wonder if Richter is indifferent towards his subjects or his manners of working (I can paint like this and I can paint like that, too, as if all things were equal), but this is evidently not the case. Speaking of his 1988 paintings based on the arrests, deaths and funerals of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Richter said: "Ever since I have been able to think, I have known that every rule and opinion – insofar as either is ideologically motivated – is false, a hindrance, a menace, a crime." The entire series remains a deeply ambiguous venture, and that is its strength. More recently the artist told Serota, in an interview for the exhibition's catalogue: "I don't even like showing them any more. The press love them. Dreadful!'"

Loving these 15 paintings is difficult, but it is impossible to ignore their significance (as enigmatic modern history paintings, which avoid a moral stance) and the fact that the events they portray took place in 1977, the same year he painted his first portrait of his daughter, Betty. Richter painted them in 1988, the year of his third portrait of his daughter, the one in which she turns away from the viewer, and by implication, from the painter himself. The questions about what will become of our children (Will they reject us? Will they see through us?) are unavoidable. Will they become terrorists and die horrible deaths, their names odious to the world? These are fears that might dog any parent, and particularly so in Germany, when so many remained silent about what happened in the 1930s and 40s. Richter's paintings wipe out the world then reinvent it, over and over, in all its awful complexity. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 22 2011

Blurred visionary: Gerhard Richter's photo-paintings

Gerhard Richter stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. A new Tate Modern retrospective, Panorama, shows why

In 2003, Gerhard Richter made several paintings with the same title: Silicate. Large oil-on-canvas pieces, these show latticed rows of light- and dark-grey blobs whose shapes quasi-repeat as they race across the frame, their angle modulating from painting to painting. When angled horizontally, they suggest strips of film bearing identical (or near-identical) sequences but running at different speeds, all of them too fast for any image-content to be made out; when angled askew, they suggest out-of-focus close-ups of a bathmat or worn carpet – or, perhaps, aerial views, similarly out-of-focus, of a gridded city.

In fact, what they're actually depicting is a photo, plucked from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, of a computer-generated simulacrum of reflections from the silicon dioxide found in insects' shells. The compound is a prime ingredient of window glass and fibre-optic cable; a semi-conductor, it's also a mainstay of computer chips. The article accompanying the source photo described research being conducted into structural colours – that is, colours that result from surface textures that refract, rather than contain, pigment. What seems, at first glance, an op art abstraction thus turns out, when unpacked, to contain an entire disquisition on the meshing of the "natural" world (insects) with its synthetic reproductions both inherent (shell-reflections) and exterior (scientific visual modelling); on the surfaces through which we look (windows) and vectors along which we relay or broadcast information (cables); on digital technology; and on colour and its spectrum – which, of course, means both on painting and on light itself, the very ground and possibility of vision.

There's a tendency to discuss the art of the past hundred years in terms of binary oppositions: abstract versus figurative; conceptual versus craft-based; painting versus photography; and so on. Richter, who since the 1970s has been almost universally acknowledged as a late-modern master, reduces these binaries to rubble. Here's a painter whose work is inseparable from photography; a man so devoted to craft that he reportedly makes his students construct their own pallet-trolleys before allowing them to raise a brush in anger, yet indulges in Joseph Beuys-style performances in which he lounges on a staircase grasping a wire (as in the 1968 piece Cable Energy), or Debordian critiques of consumer culture in which he installs himself on pedestal-mounted furniture amid a soundscape of advertising slogans (as in the 1963 piece Living with Pop: A Demonstration of Capitalist Realism); who exhibits colour-charts alongside pastoral landscapes; places mirrors around his paintings; photographs a single grey brushstroke from 128 different angles and lays these out in a large grid; or projects a yellow one, massively enlarged, on to fresh canvas and repaints it as a giant 20-metre streak … I could go on and on: his versatility and scope are stunning.

Born in 1932 in Dresden, Richter studied at the city's Academy of Fine Arts, then worked as a darkroom assistant and socialist-realist muralist before fleeing the DDR for Düsseldorf in 1961. Even before he left, he'd been exposed to such western figures as the canvas-slashing Lucio Fontana and the paint-dribbling Jackson Pollock, and his earliest work betrays their influence. The piece that he himself presents as his first "proper" one, though, painted in 1962, depicts, in sober tones and utterly representational mode, a plain white table – or, rather, would depict this if it weren't for the large blur sitting at the picture's centre. The unlikely combination is pure Richter: a preoccupation with the everyday and unadorned (a favourite expression of his, repeated in numerous correspondence, is Es ist wie's ist: "it is what it is"), married to a sense of some kinetic violence lurking either at the heart of these or at the interface between them and the viewer. Subsequent paintings – of toilet-roll holders, or of promotional pictures of new makes of car, or holidaying families posing for a snapshot, or statesmen blinking in the flashbulb glare of public scrutiny, or tribesmen doing the same before National Geographic's gaze – would repeatedly involve some form of blurring: it quickly became Richter's trademark.

What is a blur? It's a corruption of an image, an assault upon its clarity, one that turns transparent lenses into opaque shower curtains, gauzy veils. Richter painted a lot of curtains; he had a curtain-painting hanging in his Düsseldorf studio, beside the curtain. He had left his own past behind an iron one; many of the blurred snapshot-scenes he produced in the 60s were of relatives he'd never see again, childhood locations become inaccessible. Beyond reflecting his own situation, the blur serves as a perfect general metaphor for memory, its degradation, for the Ozymandian corrosion wrought by time. One blurred Richter painting reproduces badly taken tourist snaps of Egypt, in which pyramids and temples lose their shapes and scale and grandeur. "I blur to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant," he explained.

Flashbulbs, snapshots, reportage: above all else, the blur recalls camera movement and errors of printing. The vast majority of Richter's paintings aren't directly "of" the thing they purport to show, but rather of magazine or photo-album reproductions of it. He'll often hammer this point home by including surrounding text: captions and advertising copy, scrapbook annotations – which, of course, blur too. What Richter is at pains to foreground is the fact of mediation, the presence, at the very origin and base of every piece, of technologies of mass-production, of repetition. He not only overwrites our perceptual relation to the world by rerouting it through its glitch-ridden mediating screens; he also brings this logic to bear on the history of art. He remakes Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, not only hazing it up but also, vitally, replacing the letter the original figure holds in her fingers – a unique, hand-written article with one addressee – with a newspaper: an impersonal, mass-produced media object. Blurring up Titian's Annunciation, he turns the image into what, for 99% of its viewers, it already was: a reproduction of a reproduction, a third-generation bootleg.

That Richter homes in on the annunciation is doubly significant, since Titian's masterpiece concerns itself with divine revelation, with the act of making known. Throughout Richter's oeuvre, a double-play is going on, a struggle being fought within each work between showing and hiding, with the result that each work performs a logic-defying feat of hiding-in-the-act-of-showing, of revealing hiddenness itself. In a recent interview with Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, Richter waxes all Heideggerean – or, in fact, Rumsfeldian – when Serota asks him: "Do you think painting is about discovering the unknown or the known?" The "known," he answers, "which we see and experience, which effects us and we have to react to … that is the most important thing" – but then, in an immediate volte-face, he goes on to claim that when a subject "turns into the unknown, into what it was, that has an excitement all of its own". Painting, he concludes, has to retain "something incomprehensible".

On occasion his own works have, despite their patina of opaque non-disclosure, divulged secrets of which even he was unaware. Two snapshot-derived paintings from 1965 and 1966, a nondescript image of the infant Richter with his aunt, and an equally generic childhood picture of his first wife and her family standing by a snowy road, seemed unconnected when he made them. But it transpired, years later, that the father-in-law posing in the second was a Nazi gynaecologist who had sterilised scores of mentally ill women in the same district in which the aunt in the first work, a schizophrenic, had herself been sterilised and euthanised in 1945. The subject of one painting had, at least by association and quite possibly literally, killed the subject of the other.

There's always violence lurking within Richter's images. When, in 1968, he painted aerial views of cities, the series was automatically framed by the bomber-planes he'd painted five years earlier. In Townscape Paris, buildings and monuments melt and implode in a series of streaks and smears. Is this paint smudging, or is he picturing the city being nuked? The ambiguity is deliberate: destruction is absorbed into the very act of representing; painting and bombing become one and the same gesture. No sooner had he finished this series than he turned his attention to mountain ranges, blasting their peaks to ruins through the formal modulations to which he subjected them.

A later series, from 1975, is so blurred that it will strike most viewers as entirely abstract – until the two main words in all the works' titles, "tourist" and "lion", prompt them to squint and pick out the safari-goer being ripped apart. Again, form and subject matter merge completely in the veiled divulgence of a ferocious primal scene: the paint becomes the lion, devouring figuration in a frenzy of power and movement. By the 80s Richter was dragging squeegees across paintings' surfaces, smearing (over the next two decades) everything from Venice to a forest to his third wife and newborn child in an astonishing annihilation of the difference between marking and erasing, revealing and obscuring, creating and destroying.

Richter's most famous series is October 18, 1977. Painted 11 years after the events they address, the 15 works – grey, small and undramatic – show members of the Baader-Meinhof group: a youthful picture; a post-capture mugshot; the record-player in which a gun was smuggled into prison and so on. Derived from press and police photographs that Richter, naturally, has blurred, the images are remarkable for the dual pull they exert towards, on the one hand, monumentality and, on the other, monochrome monotony. In another recent interview, Richter uses the term ansehnlich ("considerable") to describe the effect of rescuing an image from the endless rush of media and paying it the attention – the devotion, we could say – of crafting it into a unique work of art. The Baader-Meinhof paintings are ansehnlich, to be sure – but they're neither heroic nor condemnatory nor in any way resolved. "Their horror," Richter says, "is the horror of the hard-to-bear refusal to answer, to explain, to give an opinion." The pictures, ultra-loaded as they are, reject any attempt to bring their subject matter into focus along perspectival lines of ideology or pathos or transcendence. They represent, as Richter puts it, "a leave-taking from any specific doctrine of salvation". History is not there to be redeemed and held up in divine synthesis, least of all through art: rather, like a chair, or toilet-roll holder, or gramophone, Es ist wie's ist.

Since 1972, Richter has intermittently exhibited, under the title Atlas, the vast, ever-expanding collection of source-images from which his work is drawn (he's also published it in book form with the same title). Atlas, perhaps, is Richter's greatest work, because it contains all the others. Flipping through it is like picking through the entrails – or, perhaps more fittingly, the source-code – of not only Richter's work but also the 20th century and, perhaps, of western art in its entirety. Here are bombs, fridges, hard-core porn, the surface of the moon; here's a cruise ship, an electric light, a waterfall, a diver frozen in mid-somersault, the image over-gridded; here's a warship, a suburban street, stags on a mountain, heaps of bodies in an Auschwitz yard. Here are the Baader-Meinhof photos; here's that hapless tourist with his lions; here's one of Richter's own doodles.

The pictures are ordered by their formal qualities – colour-gradations, shapes and angles – rather than thematically, which sets up a visual taxonomy in which all subjects are both reduced to equal terms and augmented by their juxtaposition with the others. He intervenes in many of the images, sticking lines of tape on urban sprawls to identify their axes, or extrapolating the pattern of a tower block's stacked-up balconies, repeating this in the next image as pure abstract geometry, then morphing it back into a sketch of plinths for an imaginary exhibition of his work. It's as though, like some symbolic safe-cracker, he were running through all possible combinations and all modulations of the world's image-bank; or, like some ancient gnostic monk or rabbi, reeling off the mutating names of God in an incantatory votive list with neither origin nor end – the vital difference being that Richter's universe is godless. This, perversely, makes it all the more revelatory, in the sense that the philosopher Giorgio Agamben uses the term: profane without redemption, just irreparably thus.

When, in 2007, the atheist Richter was commissioned to design a stained-glass window for Cologne's cathedral, he had coloured squares installed in electronically generated random configurations, parts of which he then repeated across the 113-square-metre space – again, extrapolating patterns, taxonomising the forms and sequences chance throws out. The work caused a furore, with a cardinal complaining (using, albeit inadvertently, delightfully apt language) that the work doesn't "clearly reflect our faith". Too right it doesn't. From an art perspective, though, what's more important than Richter's rejection of the divine is his parallel rebuffal of the sublime. Like virtually all German artists of his generation, Richter at times conducts a dialogue with Romanticism. But road signs replace church spires in his landscapes; waves and clouds are fragmented, isolated, collaged and inverted; icebergs are laid out in multiplying rows, as in school geography textbooks. The fascination is retained – but it's a fascination voided of sublimity, wedded instead to repetition, reproduction, an interrogation of the act of looking and the technologies through which this act takes place.

Here, as everywhere in Richter's work, the gaze – of the artist, of the viewer – has been purged of sentimentality, of ideologies of "naturalness". This is what sets him head and shoulders above his contemporaries Beuys and Anselm Kiefer – who, for all their brilliance, fall into the trap of uncritically reiterating the Romantic aesthetic that segued so seamlessy, with its fetishes of blood and earth, its sentimentalising of history, into Nazism and finds its contemporary expression in vague cultural notions of authenticity and "spirituality". To make the leap beyond such consoling and reactionary banalities – and to do this without getting snared in that other trap, the one so much of Britart made its home in, namely irony – that is the aesthetic challenge of our era.

Richter's series September, and numbered "series No 911" in his internal cataloguing system, grew from a notebook drawing – an extrapolated mutation of who knows how many other mutated images – that he considered abstract until his friend, the art historian Benjamin Buchloh, looked at it and said: "Oh, that's the World Trade Center being attacked." The twin towers loom into view, in the completed series, out of shockingly gorgeous light-blue backgrounds, before disappearing, at each painting's top, in clouds of billowing grey, while small metallic streaks – denoting planes, or media, or violence, or perhaps just paint – blur as they hurtle across the canvas. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 25 2011

Bill Frisell: Sign of Life: Music for the 858 Quartet – review


Guitarist Bill Frisell formed this occasional group in 2002 to produce music inspired by eight Gerhard Richter abstract paintings entitled 858-1 to 858-8, which were eventually packaged as the 2005 CD Richter 858. Though hints of Frisell's famous country-jazz impressionism and waltzing momentum were present, this was music far closer to the cool ambiguities of the paintings themselves. The lineup included guitar, violin, viola and cello, so they were, in effect, an electric guitar-led string quartet, and played with an idiosyncratic, folksy, contemporary-classical solemnity. This is the group's first recording since, and though that atmosphere remains, it's infused with rootsier references and more explicit warmth. These 17 short pieces sometimes sound like wistful, eerie country music, at times with Celtic inflections. Frisell hardly solos, and mostly restricts himself to shimmering, pinging and warped chord sounds within the loose, collective slow-whirl. But the pieces (all Frisell originals) are absorbingly different, from the softly ringing, classical-sounding Wonderland, through Mother Daughter, with its low guitar throb, to the breezy chamber hoedown of Suitcase in My Head and the lyrical romantic blues of A Friend of Mine. It's yet another testament to Frisell's versatility.

Rating: 4/5 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 02 2011

Gerhard Richter's 'lost' skater emerges in auction

Eisläuferin is part of an outstanding collection of postwar German art to be sold at Sotheby's

One of Gerhard Richter's earliest paintings, which the artist thought had been destroyed long ago, has emerged in the most significant collection of recent German art ever to come on the market.

Richter's paintings over the past 50 years are all in his catalogue raisonné – a comprehensive list of his works. Eisläuferin, "skater", holds a special place at No 2, but until now the only version available has been a poor-quality mono illustration on Richter's website. The original is expected to fetch up to £3m

Sotheby's is to auction Eisläuferin along with other works from the 1960s and 1970s. The sale, in June, will include canvases by Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke, all assembled by German industrialist Count Christian Duerckheim.

Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby's head of contemporary art in Europe, said of Eisläuferin: "It is a special painting last exhibited in 1963 in a very, very early group show that Richter was part of and then the artist lost sight of the piece. Basically Richter and everyone around him thought that the work was destroyed."

"We are working very closely with Richter's archive and the team around the artist are very excited," she said.

The work is one of 59 in the sale, with a total estimated value in excess of £33m. "It is a truly outstanding collection. We've never seen anything like it on the market," said Westphal, describing the paintings as a "portrait of a generation of artists". She added: "To have a collection of this quality, depth and unbelievable freshness has never happened before."

Richter, who will have a retrospective at Tate Modern this autumn to mark his 80th birthday, is also represented by works such as Telefonierender, an early photo-painting, and 1024 Farben, a vivid colour chart. Many of the works have not been seen publicly since they were exhibited in the early 1960s.

One of the auction's highlights is Baselitz's The Big Night Down the Drain, which Sotheby's believes is "the most important German work of art of the postwar period to come to the market". The canvas – showing a short, ugly man holding his outsized erect penis – was inspired by a newspaper story about Irish poet Brendan Behan reading his work on stage, drunk and with his flies open. In 1963 it was confiscated by the German authorities for "infringement of public morality". Baselitz got the painting back only after several years, and several court cases.

The Big Night Down the Drain has a sale estimate of £2m-£3m. During a 2007 retrospective in London, curator Norman Rosenthal wrote: "The artist recently stated in public that perhaps he never has and never will make a finer painting." Duerckheim has other important examples of the artist's work including Spekulatius, from the Hero series.

One of the Polke works is Jungle, the largest of the artist's dot paintings, estimated to be worth £3m-£4m.

"We all thought it was a much smaller work than it is," said Westphal. "When I finally got to see the painting I nearly fainted. It was so amazing and such a discovery."

Duerckheim says he is selling because he feels the collection is complete and it is time to start something new. It will be shown publicly in London before the sale. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 11 2011

What Muir can do

With his connections to the elite of today's art, the Institute of Contemporary Arts' new chief can restore its former glory

The Institute of Contemporary Arts has apparently decided that it is a contemporary visual art venue first and foremost. This is probably true, both historically and today – and offers this much-criticised institution its best chance of future importance.

The way in which the ICA has declared a primary commitment to art is by appointing curator and writer Gregor Muir as its new executive director. Muir comes there from Hauser and Wirth, the successful commercial gallery, and has a longstanding involvement with the British art scene that he narrated in a book, Lucky Kunst: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art, about his friends, the original Hirst generation of young British artists (YBAs).

Muir's knowledge of and connections with the elite of today's art will mark a change of tone in the ICA's exhibitions. If anything, in recent years it has tried to position itself as an alternative art space promoting lesser known artists and post-YBA factions. This goes back to 1997 when it put on Die Young, Stay Pretty, one of the first exhibitions to claim to find the next big thing after YBA art, and has recently even included an exhibition by former Stuckist, Billy Childish.

I suspect we are now more likely to see big names and hot global art at the ICA, a return to the days when it showed such artists as Gerhard Richter and indeed Hirst. This is a good recipe for this venerable home of the British avant-garde to reclaim its laurels. Congratulations, and best of luck to Muir. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 03 2011

The best visual arts for 2011

Adrian Searle has been critical of Tracey Emin in the past, but finds himself looking forward to her show at the Hayward in May, plus the year's other highlights

It's perhaps surprising that I should single out Tracey Emin's upcoming solo show as one I'm particularly looking forward to. I slagged off her Bed (above) in the 1999 Turner prize show – the artist even blamed me for her not winning the prize. I was horrified by her Venice Biennale British Pavilion in 2007, which included an ill-advised collection of paintings. She stopped speaking to me. But when I slated a slightly tipsy performance she once gave, the artist wrote to tell me my review should have appeared in the obituaries section. She's a trouper.

Tracey, oh Tracey. Her art is often derided as trivial and self-regarding. She is an artist who has placed her own life – her abortions, her childhood and troubled adolescence in Margate, her relationships with her Turkish father and her brother – at the centre of her art.

It is better to regard Emin as a cultural phenomenon as much as an artist, both a regular presence in glossy mags and an elected Royal Academician. Sir Joshua Reynolds, you might imagine, would turn in his grave. He'd be as likely to offer to take her for a drink. Emin has achieved a status in British public life that sometimes gets foisted on eccentric individuals: think of the late Quentin Crisp, life-model turned autobiographer and film critic; think of the self-parodic mad-eyed TV astronomer and xylophone player Patrick Moore; think of Grayson Perry, transvestite, potter, savant and motorcyclist. All are self-invented figures, consciously or otherwise, and self-invention is their best creative act. This might also be said of artists such as Warhol and Beuys – one was bewigged, fame-conscious and lived a double life; the other wore a fisherman's jerkin and affected the role of the shaman. Their work and their persona are as one.

But their art was greater than themselves, however much an extension of personality it became. This is not to put Emin on anything like their level of attainment as artists. Her painful self-exposure wouldn't count for much if it weren't for her artistic drive, and the wish – not always succesfully fulfilled – to transform her experience into films, appliqued fabrics, drawings, paintings, installations, poems and stories.

Mounting this large show is a test. The Hayward can be a stern critic. Things can shrivel and die here against the shuttered grey concrete. Or they can sing. At its best, her work can do just that – in a key that's all her own.

At the Hayward Gallery, London SE1 (0844 847 9910;, 18 May – 29 August.

The year's best art exhibitions

Modern British Sculpture

Is there such a thing as British sculpture? What's interesting is who's in and who's out (no Anish Kapoor, no Antony Gormley) in a show that takes us from Jacob Epstein to Damien Hirst. Sarah Lucas, Barbara Hepworth and Rebecca Warren are also included, co-curated by newly appointed Tate Britain director Penelope Curtis.

Royal Academy, London W1 (0844 209 0051), 22 January – 7 April.

Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape

The great Catalan painter and sculptor began by painting scenes of rural peasant life, and went on to become a wayward surrealist, abstractionist and creator of a freeform symbolic world. Tate Modern's show will feature such works as The Farm (below). Underlying his work is a responsiveness to his times, from the civil war to the fall of Franco. Miró was playful, scatological, sophisticated and childlike – and apparently almost effortless as an artist.

Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 14 April – 11 September.

54th Venice Biennale

The biggest, best and oldest biennale and the one always worth visiting. Mike Nelson represents Britain, the first installationist to do so.

Venice, 4 June – 27 November;; +39 041 5218711.

René Magritte

The Belgian painter is an often misunderstood and frequently trivialised artist. Surrealism's poster boy, Magritte was a poetic, contrary and troubled man. His art is at once popular and instantly recognisable, complex and flawed.

Tate Liverpool (0151-702 7400), 24 June – 16 October.

Folkestone Triennial

The faded resort plays host to artists from all over the world in the second of these three-yearly projects. Cornelia Parker brings Copenhagen's Little Mermaid to the south coast, and Huw Locke fills a church with model ships.

25 June – 25 September,, 01303 854080,

The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic

Robert Wilson, an inspired director of theatrical extravaganzas, presents The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, starring the equally complex Serbian performance artist herself and the excellent Willem Dafoe. With songs by Antony Hegarty, this should be the high point of the Manchester festival.

The Lowry, Salford (0161-876 2198), 9-16 July.

Gerhard Richter: Panorama

This will include his most important work – the 1988 cycle of paintings based on images of the Baader- Meinhof group, counterpointed with September 2005, his response to 9/11. This most intelligent painter is enormously prolific, and works in diverse, unexpected ways, yet his work's overall coherence and power becomes more apparent as time goes on. Europe's most significant painter.

Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 6 October – 8 January 2012.

Tacita Dean

Dean is one of my favourite artists, the best non-winner of the Turner prize. Mostly a maker of quietist, observational films, she's a surprising choice to create the next Turbine Hall Commission. Unlikely to deliver a participatory spectacle, she should change the way the audience approaches this most public and high-profile of annual commissions. What will she do?

Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 11 October – 9 April 2012.

Leonardo Da Vinci

The most complete exhibition of Leonardo's paintings ever held. Leonardo was a genius – but how good a painter was he? Complimented by drawings and works by his contemporaries, and the RA's copy of Leonardo's Last Supper, and his preparatory sketches, this is the high point of the National Gallery's year. The Mona Lisa won't be coming, but there will be queues anyway.

National Gallery, London W1 (020-7747 2885), 9 November – 5 February 2012. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 29 2010

Germany wins in the art world

Is Germany the greatest European art nation of the 20th century?

Which country leads Europe in contemporary art? Britain, of course, you answer. Look at all those people flocking to Tate Modern. Wrong. The best artists in Europe today are German. The towering geniuses Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer radically contrast in how they conceive art yet both, from their divergent perspectives, one super-cool, the other romantic, achieve a profundity that makes most British art look trite.

But to widen the question – which was the greatest European art nation of the 20th century? France? Wrong again. It was Germany. Only Germany has been at the forefront of modern art from the early 20th century right up until today. Paris declined as a creative capital after 1939, but German artists have been revolutionary for 100 years without missing a beat. The passion of expressionist painting and cinema, the fragmentation grenades of Dada, the idealism of the Bauhaus and realism of Neue Sachlichkeit – these German art movements of the early 20th century did not give way, as in France, to cultural decline but instead burned on into the 1960s and 70s, when Joseph Beuys showed that art can still reach into myth and memory to renew the world. Beuys and his legacy – continued by Kiefer, rejected by Richter – coincided with a great renewal of German cinema: for one aspect of the German genius is that fine art and film have merged there since the days of Murnau.

And a final question – who created the Renaissance? Well, Italy did, but Germany was the first northern country to adapt Renaissance ideas to its own culture, and the only land north of the Alps to produce one of the masters of the High Renaissance – the towering figure of Albrecht Dürer, whose genius is celebrated in a timely new book by Norbert Wolf. It was Dürer whose readiness to embrace the new technology of the printing press – his prints are as great as his paintings, or greater – set the modernising, forward-looking, and productive tone of German art right down to today, when new art flourishes in a Berlin that is the worthy heir to the cosmopolis portrayed in Kirchner's painting Potsdamer Platz. Anyone who spends a couple of days in Berlin's museums and galleries will come to the conclusion that the Germans really are better at art. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 22 2010

Why Gerhard Richter towers above today's artists

The German artist paints what he sees in photographs – and what he sees is extraordinary. But don't tell him I said that

Gerhard Richter is a great artist. I don't mean that lightly. The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history. And yet, his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such hyperbole repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticises the creative act.

I like sometimes just to wander through Tate Modern. The unpredictable nature of its displays means you never quite know what will hold and fascinate you. Anyway, I roamed into the room that contains nothing but Richter's series of abstract paintings entitled Cage (1-6) and it was like going from a claustrophobic interior into an expansive parkland where distant city lights flicker on half-frozen ponds. These paintings are liberating and time-freezing, sombre and ecstatic.

Richter painted these six three-metre-square paintings in 2006, in homage to the composer and prophet of chance, John Cage. As that implies, they reject pompous ideas of the painter as designer, or the abstractionist as seer. The language I have used to describe them already implies a grandeur they eschew – for they are works of random experiment and play, not intense meditation.

A courageous tendency in modern art finds beauty not in the depths, but the surfaces of things. Its most succinct proponent was Andy Warhol. Richter, too, believes that what you see is what you get, but what he sees is extraordinary. Photography allows him to see events he did not witness – such as the deaths in prison of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. His series of black and white history paintings derived from photographs of their prison cells, faces and bodies look, with the silent intensity of the painter, through the images towards the events they record. He wonders, we wonder.

In fact, Richter combines a Warholian openness with the powerful questioning gaze of a disciple of Cézanne. In his portraits and landscapes Cézanne questions, ceaselessly, the nature of his own looking. Who is that man there, in the mirror? His self-portrait in the National Gallery is fraught with this direst of questions. Richter inhabits, more fully than most, or more honestly than most, the photographic age, the digital age. He assimilates vast quantities of data. He paints what he sees, but what he sees comes second hand. A photograph is a piece of information to be digested, thought about, and remembered by his paintings.

In his abstract paintings at Tate Modern, he does not resemble Cézanne so much as Monet. In the glides and slips, the luminous colour collisions and accidental symmetries of these tremendous works you seem to see – anyway, I seemed to see the other day – similar reflections of the ambiguity of experience to those that float in Monet's lily pond.

Reality is profoundly ambiguous, modern physics tells us. An electron can be in two places at once. These paintings describe a world of uncertainty, without surrendering to despair. Richter is alive to the play of chance, the randomness of nature, the complexity of experience – yet proves that art can still bring something serious and beautiful out of the chaos. He towers above the artists of today. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 04 2010

Lehman sale to include early Hirst

• Lehman Brothers art sale to raise $10m to help pay creditors
• Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and John Currin works included

Art collectors will get another chance to snap up remnants from the office walls of the world's most notorious failed bank in an auction by Sotheby's in September of over 400 items from Lehman Brothers' once renowned hoard, including work by Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and Félix González-Torres, following a smaller sale from the company's collection last October.

Liquidators to the defunct Wall Street firm announced today that a large slice of Lehman's collection will go under the hammer in September in an auction expected to raise $10m (£6.89m). The proceeds will go to creditors who are still owed billions of dollars following the bank's spectacular collapse in September 2008.

Kelly Wright, an adviser to Lehman's estate, described the lots as a "visionary" collection: "Many of the works were acquired from cutting-edge and emergent artists who have since evolved into the vanguards of the contemporary art world."

Lehman inherited a significant chunk of the collection when it bought a US asset management firm, Neuberger Berman, in 2003. Neuberger's founder, Roy Neuberger, had been an enthusiastic corporate acquirer of art and Lehman subsequently built on his stockpile.

Following Lehman's bankruptcy, employees bought out Neuberger Berman, which survives with 1,600 employees and $180bn of assets under management. Neuberger exercised an option to purchase several hundred works from Lehman but the items left behind are to go on the block.

An early Damien Hirst wall piece called We've Got Style (The Vessel Collection – Blue) ( is set to be the biggest seller with an estimated price tag of $800,000 to $1.2m. A cabinet full of ceramic objects, the piece was produced before Hirst's art hit the headlines when work such as his shark preserved in formaldehyde attracted record multimillion-pound prices.

Other valuable items in the auction include The Long Way Home by China's Liu Ye, a 1992 abstract painting by Gerhard Richter and John Currin's portrait Shakespeare Actress which is set to fetch $500,000 to $700,000.

The Sotheby's sale is the second major batch of Lehman works to be sold – an earlier, less valuable, collection of contemporary art including work by David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein was auctioned off in Philadelphia seven months ago, raising $1.35m.

Winding up Lehman Brothers is expected to take three to five years according to the specialist insolvency firm Alvarez & Marsal, which is handling the task. The estate recently closed the last sale of Lehman's private equity businesses. The process is being managed carefully, with many Lehman assets still being "worked" in the hope of gaining an appreciation in value as the global economy recovers. The estate is suing Barclays, which bought many of Lehman's US operations, for allegedly negotiating a "secret" $5bn discount on its purchase. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 07 2009

Into the age of uncertainty

Bigger was better in the noughties – and nothing summed up the art world's decade of bling more aptly than a skull encrusted with diamonds.

The new century never got going till September 2001, with an audacious attack that seemed to change everything. Not long after 9/11 I was in New York, and found myself at an exhibition documenting the disaster. This ramshackle, ad-hoc show included photographs of wrecked lobbies clogged with rubble, a snowfall of dust covering restaurant tables set for lunch, the folded knitwear in a downtown boutique mired in filth. There was amateur footage of the twin towers burning and collapsing, bodies falling through space; this was played and replayed, like a personal trauma running through your head.

It wasn't until 2005 that Gerhard Richter painted one of the only really telling responses to this dismal moment. Called simply September, the painting shows a generic image of the towers, sun-struck in the autumn morning and seething with smoke. There's that characteristic Richter blur: it feels like the mind won't focus. Overlaying the image are a few brusque swipes across the canvas, a gauzy smear of thin white paint, as if something had passed between us and the painting. Impatience, perhaps, or an acknowledgement that painting can't deal with more than appearances.

Tate Modern opened in London in 2000, and that too promised change, though few could predict that the building itself would become a major tourist attraction. Even much of the art, especially in the Turbine Hall, caters to an appetite for spectacle. People got all quasi-religious in front of Olafur Eliasson's 2003 wintry sun, using their bodies to write messages in the mirrored false ceiling. There was too much operatic artifice to Eliasson's work, and not quite enough to Carsten Holler's slides. It seemed that the public wanted excitement, danger, a physical rush that most art doesn't even try to provide. You can't account for the kinds of entertainment people make of the dourest art – whether Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth, her artificial crack that ran the length of the Turbine Hall, or Miroslaw Balka's How It Is, whose darkened space gives ample opportunity for witless use of mobile phone-cams. This year, on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth, Antony Gormley's One and Other turned the audience itself into the spectacle.

Even art's destruction, in the 2004 fire that engulfed a warehouse on the outskirts of London belonging to MoMart, the leading art handlers and storage company, created a frisson of pleasure in some quarters. Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell, Tracey Emin's tent, as well as many other works owned by Charles Saatchi and – saddest of all – a large chunk of the estate of the painter Patrick Heron, were consumed. The Chapmans rebuilt Hell – and made it much, much worse. The rest was irretrievable.

In October 2003, the first Frieze art fair brought international galleries and collectors to London's Regent's Park. It is hard to underestimate its effect: this was the first credible contemporary art fair in Britain, and chimed with the habits of the art-collecting rich, who prefer to do their shopping en masse at fairs. Over the decade, public and private galleries alike have timed their biggest shows to coincide with the annual fair. While money sloshed through the art world, prices went up, and quality often went down, to the point where a skull covered in diamonds became the most talked about and reproduced work of the decade. Damien Hirst's Beautiful Inside My Head Forever did nothing for me.

Art fairs, it has been said, are the new biennials. Some, like the Liverpool Biennial, which staggered through the decade, make one agree. But the big international circus goes on. The opening days of the Venice Biennale are now written-up as much in terms of parties and celebrities as the art. In 2007, the five–yearly Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and the once-a-decade Munster Sculpture Project followed Venice, and became part of an unseemly Grand Tour, which also took in the Basel art fair. Such migrations across Europe haven't been seen since the 30 years war.

The global art trail

For critics, following this art trail is necessary, not least because of the huge changes brought about by the internet. One's readers are now as likely to be in Berlin or Toronto as the UK, and we often see the same artists, even the same works, in our respective cities. Artists now spend more time in airports than in their studios; it is increasingly impossible to categorise artists as either local or international, whatever that might mean. Events such as the Glasgow International and Manchester International are now must-sees, and the Folkestone Biennial looks like following suit. All have been leaps of faith, and prove that smaller sometimes really is better.

The opening of Baltic in Gateshead, Mima in Middlesbrough and the new Nottingham Contemporary have also bolstered regional fortunes; despite the Baltic's rocky history of directorial changes it has managed to give Tate Liverpool a run for its money. Internationally, the 2006 Berlin Biennial, Of Mice and Men, curated by a team including artist Maurizio Cattelan, managed to acknowledge both the particular history of Berlin and bigger issues about what it means to make art now. This was my biennial of the decade.

In 2004, the Albanian artist Anri Sala made one of the best video shows I have ever seen, in the enormous medieval refectory of the Couvent des Cordeliers in Paris. The works were projected in half-light, on grey felt walls. An undernourished horse waited, at night, by a roadside on the outskirts of Tirana, while traffic roared past. Kids chased crabs across a beach, by torchlight. A DJ on a Tirana rooftop mixed disco beats in the torrential rain, against the backdrop of New Year fireworks exploding over the city. It was impossible not to think of other explosions, and other cities torn apart by war. The show was called Entre Chien et Loup (meaning that at dusk, one can't tell a wolf from a dog). A sort of dreary half-light also permeated two identical East End terrace houses in London's Whitechapel, where German artist Gregor Schneider installed Die Familie Schneider. In each house a woman pottered in the kitchen, a man masturbated behind a shower curtain, a kid with a bin-liner over his head lay in an upstairs bedroom. The men and women were two pairs of twins, and all acted oblivious to visitors. There was something unpleasant down in that basement, but to this day I'm not sure what.

Only one woman, Tomma Abts, won the Turner prize in the noughties (though that may change when this year's winner is announced tonight). Abts' quiet, unsettling abstractions were described, derisorily, by one German critic as the painted equivalent of geometric wallpaper from the old GDR. Sounded pretty good to me, but Abts's introspective, complex little paintings have a strange and mesmerising sense of absorption and contemplative reverie. Who said painting was dead, or could imagine work like this winning the Turner?

Tacita Dean has never won the prize, but went on to win major awards in the US and Germany, the latter just a couple of weeks ago. Dean's 16mm films are just one example of art that has gone to the movies in the last decade. Julian Schnabel has shown himself a far more accomplished film-maker than he is a painter, while artists Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno had a surprise 2005 cinema hit with Zidane, their film about the French footballer. Steve McQueen won the Cannes Golden Camera award in 2008 with Hunger, a moving film about Irish hunger-striker Bobby Sands. Neither film sacrificed the impulses or aesthetics of its director.

Space exploration

The shows that have stayed with me include 2007's Courbet exhibition in Paris and New York, and both Manet and Picasso at the Prado in Madrid; all were exemplary. So, too, was El Greco at the National Gallery, and the current The Sacred Made Real, featuring 17th–century Spanish painting and sculpture. But the work that affected me most was Richard Serra's Promenade at the Grand Palais in Paris last year. Off-vertical steel plates marched through the belle-epoque building, pacing you as much as measuring the space. Promenade slowed you down, stopped you, made you aware of yourself and the place you were in. It wasn't entertainment. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 13 2009

All will be revealed

Fancy bagging an Anish Kapoor or Yoko Ono for just £40? Take a look at the pocket-size artworks donated to this year's Secret Postcards sale

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