Reflections on the Richter exhibition

Leading German artist showing at the Tate comments on his work


A major survey of Gerhard Richter’s paintings is at the Tate Gallery (until 12 January 1992). This survey, which comprises sixty pictures selected from a working career of thirty years, is the most important exhibition of Richter’s art to have been mounted since his North American retrospective of 1988. Roger Bevan asked the artist about the exhibition and new projects.

How closely were you involved in the selection of the pictures for the Tate Gallery’s exhibition?

Gerhard Richter. It was a collaboration. I suggested paintings but Nicholas Serota and Sean Rainbird had the final word. I had the feeling that I can trust them. For example, they wanted to show the landscape screen, “Park Piece” and I didn’t like it at all, but I said alright, if you want to, show it.

Do you find it frightening or exciting to see your career summarised by a retrospective survey?

Frightening, no. I like to do retrospective shows. I cannot explain why. It is always different. Even when a show is touring with the same paintings, they look different: in Toronto and Chicago they were two different shows. I like it because it helps me to understand what I am doing, what my art could mean.

Did you supervise the installation of the Tate Gallery’s exhibition?

I did a model, with all the paintings in a scale of 1:50. I had the feeling that the show might be a bit conventional, but I am told that it is not so.

Were there any surprises, any pictures which you had not seen recently and which excited or disappointed you?

These very old painting from the Sixties, I was a bit shocked at their condition, they look so dirty and fragile. The whites have become dirty, yellowish. But now they are on the walls, they are alright. The “Titian Annunciation” paintings, they are quite good. Nicholas Serota had said that we must have these paintings. There are five canvases in the series, the three in the exhibition belong to the Crex Foundation and are very similar. Then there are two exceptions, one is very naturalistic and the fifth is blurred, almost abstract. They belong to an Italian collector who was not willing to lend. To have hung all five paintings might have been too conceptual, but we wanted to show them together, only it was not possible.

Were there any works which you would have preferred to have omitted?

The “Forty-eight Portraits”. It would be better if we could have shown the paintings and not the photographs because it is an exhibition of paintings and their inclusion is a bit strange.

You have not painted any figurative pictures since “Betty” in 1988. Are you planning any new figurative work?

No. I only have the wish. I would like to do them, but I have no idea what. I have not found the right subject or the right method. I’m looking for something new but I don’t know what. I have tried several times to paint my wife, Isa, but it didn’t work at all.

Do you notice any changes taking place in your abstract work since you completed the red paintings for Durand-Dessert’s exhibition in Paris?

At the moment I have no idea what to paint. I did four paintings; they are still in my studio. I have not finished them.

Where will your next commercial gallery exhibition take place?

It should be in New York. Marian Goodman is waiting, but I have told her that I don’t have much hope that it will happen soon. She expects it to take place in May 1992, but it is not possible.

And other museum exhibitions to follow the Tate Gallery?

In 1993 Kaspar König and Benjamin Buchloh are curating a retrospective exhibition to be shown in Paris, Madrid, Stockholm and Bonn. They are trying to make a different exhibition, different works, a different view. I am trying not to be involved in it.