Gerhard Richter — I wonder how many people who may read my blog know who this man is. The NY Times has considered him to be the most famous and successful living artist for many years. Before 2000 I had read about this Dresden-born artist’s studio in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. One of the features was a floor so clean you could almost lick it. I was intrigued by the fact that Richter could not be pinned down to one style or another and that he was also a photographer.
In 2004 Richter published a book, War Cut. Of it the NY Times wrote in an essay by Jan Thorn-Pricker:
The topic is the war in Iraq. Again, ambiguity is a theme, but unlike his earlier political work, the result is colorful and abstract. The book consists of collages: 216 photographic details of Mr. Richter’s 1987 painting ‘’№648–2,’’ accompanied by an equal number of newspaper articles from The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on March 20 and 21, 2003, the beginning days of the war. The result links two normally unrelated mediums, creating a hybrid commentary that can be seen as a kind of absurd historical novel.
The article made me very curious. I went to the then arts bookstore on Granville and Broadway here in Vancouver called Oscar’s. I asked Oscar about the book. He placed it in my hands. It was a thing of wonder I could not afford to buy. But it left a lasting impression on how an artist could protest in his own way the iniquities of war machines.
In this Friday’s March 6 article on a Richter exhibition at the Met’s Marcel Brauer Gallery I read with interest that this 90 year old man may consider this to be one of his last exhibitions. But important to me was something reviewer Jason Farago wrote to close his essay:
For 60 years, he has treated uncertainty as an ethical duty. That remains true even at this final celebration, and with every pass of the squeegee [one of Richter’s painting techniques] he has modeled how an artist can create in the face of doubt, face down the fear of wrongness, mistrust oneself and still fight on.
That is the priceless example he offers today’s young artists, whose every mistake or hesitation gets pounced on by the digital Savonarolas. So much dogmatism out there, so much high-volume moralizing. The voice we need to hear is the voice that says: I don’t know. I’m not sure. I am still thinking. I’m still working.
Those are words to inspire this old man to keep kicking for a while longer.