Monday, May 14, 2012

Richter, commodity? Or more...

·       Gerhard Richter, Clouds (Grey, 1969), oil on canvas, 150 cm x 200 cm.

I was starting to write a post about my trip to Chicago, but got distracted when I emailed to a friend that I was going to Paris soon to see the Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Beaubourg and drawing show at the Louvre, and she sent me this, a rant about the commodification of his work by Reuters' Felix Salmon.

Richter’s paintings being commodities has nothing to do with Richter, the artist. Clearly this was not the artist’s decision, nor his intention. Contrary to what Salmon has to say, a majority of us in the “making” part of the art world think Richter is very important, someone with a tremendous influence (the fact that the film, “Gerhard Richter Painting” is still running, after two months, at Film Forum, is testimony to that). I, for one, am grateful to have a model, someone to look up to, who's still producing great work at 80 or whatever.

But here’s the thing: Picasso, de Kooning, and Warhol aren’t just good artists, they’re important artists — among the most important of the 20th Century. They permanently changed the way we look at and think about art: what it is, what it can do, what it should look like. Richter’s no slouch on that front, but he’s not in their league, and never will be.

So how does a financial writer get to decide which artists are “important” and which aren’t? I don’t see Reuters asking me for financial analysis.

The writer’s assumptions are faulty on several counts. Just because Picasso and Warhol took longer to be recognized in the 20th century doesn't mean that's what's necessary to be an "important" artist in the 21st century, when communication is so much faster, when the cultural world is so much bigger and more savvy, and when (as a result of Picasso, Warhol, and Duchamp) “difficult” is easy, breaking rules (or looking as if you’re breaking rules) is the order of the day, and “meaningful” is much harder to come by. Given his times, which have been characterized by cynicism (think Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Damien Hirst) and any sincere attempt at beauty has been taboo, Richter is actually radical. In this climate, to be unabashedly conscious of painting's possible emotional content, to paint landscapes, family portraits, candles—anything that, in other hands, would be seen as sentimental—takes a lot of courage; not to speak of working in several different styles when most artists and galleries saw, and still see, developing a single "signature" as the only route to recognition (think BriceMarden).

Further, his dealer is not Gagosian, who might automatically be assumed to be promoting commodification but Richter, since the beginning, has been represented by Marian Goodman, who has always demonstrated enormous restraint, and for whom the art always comes first. 

So Richter makes a lot of paintings; let us not forget that it’s his passion, and he can afford to indulge it. The writer’s own examples, Picasso and Warhol, proved that it’s possible to be both prolific and “important.”

It's easy to bash success. But sometimes there's a reason for that success.

So what if collectors are having a feeding frenzy. I think/hope/pray that we're coming into a time when the spirituality in art (and, dare I say, b-b-b-beauty?) will again be celebrated, and Richter is leading the way.


Ann Knickerbocker said...

Yes, yes, I agree with you entirely. I have been reading Richter's writings, and he is an artist's artist. A real one. And I love that he does so many different things, and doesn't make the single career-simplifying choice to do the ONE thing... And I would go to the show if I could, too. Have a great time!

Debra Ramsay said...

Deciding what artist is leaving something important has to be left up to generations yet to come, no?

If the qualifiers for that decision are what has happened before AND what happened after that work had an influence...time needs to pass for the later to take effect.

This is further confounded by changes in aesthetics that happen over time, visual preferences, etc.

I agree with the points you make in this post. I'm moved by Richter's work and his dedication to his work, the film was helpful in making this understood. said...

oh thank you so much Carol, I just happened to turn on the Television Monday and see the Ed Harris movie of Pollack. It so hard to extract money from art. but it is so essential. So much is done to Brand artists, to teach them marketing? I heard an art educator rattle on about Best Practices? Yikes , the Best Practice is to go into your studio and try what you are thinking of, dreaming of, experiment, burp up your art, work with it. Give it a voice. not learn how to copy other artist who have suceeded? Why do people think of that as art? Well , thank you for telling us about Richter the artist. I adore his work. I am deeply influenced by his work.

CAP said...

If anyone commodified art Warhol did. I mean not for nothing was his studio called The Factory.

Incidentally, what is your take on the current financial situation?

Carol Diehl said...

THANKS for asking, CAP, but I'm trying not to have an opinion on the current financial situation. What's yours?

Carol Diehl said...

Ann, thanks for your comment. Also for the previous one, while I was traveling, so am late answering your question about posts that refer to my painting process. Look under the label "Painting". I'm beginning to think that's the only time I'm cynical.

CAP said...

I mostly lift my financial opinions from ....

But since we're considering a finance journalist's opinions on art, I thought you might like to return the compliment?

Victoria Webb said...

Thanks for this. There is also a wonderful film of Richter painting:

Painting is hard work, watch the giant sqeegee he uses. It's difficult to change in midstreams, several times during a life, but Richter has successfully done it multiple times.