Contemporary art Exhibitions Fairs Switzerland

Richter’s variations on a single theme

The Beyeler show treads new ground by focusing on the artist’s series since the 1960s

Romanticism updated: Seestück(Seascape), 1975. Photo: © 2014 Gerhard Richter

Do we need another Gerhard Richter show? The veteran German painter, now aged 82, is widely recognised as one of the great artists of our time and his work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, most recently a wide-ranging retrospective seen at Tate Modern, London, the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2011 and 2012.

So, when Sam Keller, the director of the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, approached Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Galleries, London, to see if he might be interested in organising a Richter show, Obrist asked himself: “What kind of exhibition would not be redundant after the retrospective? What kind of show is still necessary because it has not yet been done?”

Cycles of paintings

The answer, Obrist says, is to focus on the series and cycles of paintings produced by the artist since the 1960s and to consider Richter’s interest in the connection between architecture and the presentation of his art, bringing together works conceived as complete rooms, aspects of his painting that “have received little attention in the past”, Obrist says.

Around 100 paintings by the artist spanning 50 years will be on display at the Beyeler, including works that are thematically linked, such as “Eight Student Nurses”, 1966, individual portraits of young female murder victims, and the cycle “October 18, 1977”, 1988, 15 paintings that examine the death in their prison cells of members of the Red Army Faction, a left-wing terrorist group that perpetrated a number of killings and kidnappings in the 1970s.

Other groups, such as “Annunciation after Titian”, 1973, consist of various ­versions of a single subject, in this case inspired by a 1535 painting in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice. These ­canvases, now dispersed across various collections, are brought together for the first time in the Fondation Beyeler show.

Meanwhile, cycles of abstract paintings, such as “Woods”, 2005, and “Cage”, 2006, “generate a physical pictorial space in which each image constantly interacts with the impression created by the whole”, Obrist says.

Will the show at the Beyeler be the final word on the artist? No. According to Obrist, who was 17 when he first met Richter. “He produces sensational work, again and again. Throughout his career, he has always carefully edited his output, so [he has never released] an uninteresting piece,” he says. “All the work that is out there is amazing; there is an infinity of possible exhibitions that you could organise from his work.”

Gerhard Richter, Fondation Beyeler, Basel (until 7 September)

Verkündigung nach Tizian (Annunciation after Titian), 1973
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