Overlooking Overpainting

AA Files 60

my thanks to
Tom Weaver

 The founding myth that surrounds the career of Gerhard Richter locates the moment of his artis- tic birth in 1959 when he drove from his home in Dresden, then in East Germany, across the bor- der to Kassel. There, at Documenta 2, he encoun- tered art that crystallised a desire to break from the constraints of the gdr. In seven paintings by Jackson Pollock, along with works by Lucio Fontana and Jacques Fautrier, he found an art that was without limits or rules, ‘radically differ- ent, ruthless’. As a student at the Dresden Art Academy Richter had very little access to con- temporary work from the west. Only artists before Impressionism or lone, left-leaning figures such as Picasso, were approved subjects of study. Released from these constraints at Documenta, Richter is said to have gone from room to room, taking slides of virtually every- thing he saw, just about every painting in every gallery – an instant archive of an art world entirely new to him. This almost folkloric account, from Richter’s early years as a student and artist, is clouded by the fact that the photo- graphs he took at Documenta, the proof of the exuberance that marked this encounter, have since been lost. Richter’s subsequent flight to the west, to a suitcase of belongings waiting for him in a luggage locker in West Berlin, is the second act of the founding myth. With this escape, Richter left behind much of his life: a recently bought car, a mother he would never see again and, presumably, the Kassel slides stored somewhere in an abandoned studio.