Monday, October 1, 2012
Seeing more in Richter: On "chance"
Gerhard Richter, 1024 Colours (1974), enamel on canvas, 96 cm x 96 cm Catalogue Raisonné: 356-1
Karen Rosenberg in her review:
What’s important to know here is that it [Gerhard Richter’s process of digitally deconstructing an image one of his scraped paintings] eventually produces a field of thin colored bands, which Richter then prints, slices, and rearranges manually (as you might shuffle cards) and re-photographs.
NOT so. The first part of the process, the digital deconstruction, might be random (although not entirely, as he is working with an image he created after all, and has also devised the system), but the last part is not. It has been documented that Richter very carefully composed these pieces, saying that otherwise they’d look like wallpaper.
Critics—even when they get their facts right – often do not understand how “chance” (Richter commentator Benjamin Buchloh’s word, when he’s not saying “aleatory”) plays into the making of a work of art, and they make much more of it than artists do. When you read Buchloh, it’s almost as if he interprets this aspect of Richter’s work as indicating that Richter doesn’t care, is not emotionally involved in the outcome and has no formal concerns – when the opposite is the case.
Artists, however, know that “chance,” “accidental,” and even “aleatory” events are an essential part of their process, and consciously or unconsciously build in opportunities for them to happen. If we didn’t, if we could control everything to the point that we knew exactly how it would turn out, there would be no point in doing it; why undertake the experiment if you know from the outset what will happen? It often seems as if critics don’t understand that ours is a process of investigation that involves more than the simple making of things. That’s why I prefer the word “random” over Buchloh’s “chance” (“random” is about eliminating definite aim, while “chance” sounds like dumb luck) – but even more apt would be “unexpected.” We make art because it keeps us in a constant state of surprise—for better or worse. When we use intuition instead of logic, when we allow for the unexpected, trust the unexpected, it becomes a collaboration with unseen forces. I could be crucified in the art world for saying this, but it often feels like prayer.