|_| Mariposa de Obsidiana |_|
LAWRENCE WEINER Wild Blue Yonder 2002
Digital project | 15:15 min | color | sound
JOSEPH BEUYS Lightning with Stag in its Glare/Blitzschlag Mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch 1958-1985
Aluminum, bronze, and iron, thirty-nine elements, dimensions variable
To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom.
GERHARD RICHTER Eight Grey 2002
Eight enameled glass panels mounted on steel supports and hanging 50 cm from the wall
500 x 270 cm each
A conversation with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh about working together with Gerhard Richter on Eight Grey
Mr. Buchloh, you’ve not only been friends with Gerhard Richter for decades, but have been connected to him through your artistic involvement as a critic. What was the attraction for you to work on the exhibition Eight Grey in the Deutsche Guggenheim?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: At first, in an entirely pragmatic sense, Gerhard Richter proposed that I work together with him on a project again. The last time we worked together, we set up the large retrospective for Paris and Bonn together with Kasper König. On the other hand, I’m currently completing a monograph on Gerhard Richter that I’ve been working on for a number of years. And so the exhibition provided a good opportunity to approach the complex problem of monochromy in his work from an entirely different perspective, apparently expanded now to the present work. Ultimately, Eight Grey is both a large new work and a renewed approach to an old theme that’s been occupying Richter since 1965 and that he’s continued developing in new variations, such as in 4 Sheets of Glass, for instance, which he presented for the first time in 1967. In many respects, they were a precursor to Eight Grey: the reduction of the pictorial object to an experiment that’s solely about perception.
And then again there’s the aspect of permutation. 4 Sheets of Glass already had no fixed form of presentation. The sheets were adjustable, and every possible position within the constellation was legitimate. This apparently so tautological work, which consisted of nothing more than a frame and a transparent surface of glass, was able to take on an entirely new dimension purely through the permutation of the four elements, one that went far beyond the self-reflection of the modernist object. In this new work, as well, each of the eight planes can be moved and can assume a different position. Tilting them is technically prescribed, creating an additional atmosphere for the overall installation that oscillates back and forth between a house of mirrors and a sacral chamber.
The work was measured and conceived especially for this space. Isn’t this kind of architectural precision unusual for an artist who comes from painting?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: That’s a very important observation. For Richter, it’s quite untypical to develop a so-called site-specific work. This is an aesthetic that arose in the sixties and seventies in the USA and brought forth a tremendous number of important projects. But contemporary artists stopped dealing with these issues at a certain point. All the more astonishing that Richter suddenly became involved with this very aesthetic of site-specificity late in his career and made a work that clearly intervenes in a given architecture.
That was never the case before in his work, and it’s an entirely untypical way of working for a painter like Richter, if he’s a painter, that is. He told me how difficult it was for him to conceive a work for this space, that he’d often arrived at the point where he wanted to call off the whole project until he finally succeeded in transforming the given exhibition architecture, making the windows to the street transparent and removing the exhibition walls. As a result, a direct interaction with the street becomes incorporated into the work, with all the sounds, movements, and reflections of light from inside and outside. This brings a peculiar dynamic into the passive quietude of the monochrome “Mirror Pictures,” as he calls them. No, the street situation becomes just as much an object of reflection as the viewer in the museum’s interior. This goes far beyond the monochrome history in Richter’s work.
Now, grey evokes certain associations in the context of modernist architecture. Passersby will presumably perceive the pressure and the weight of the color. Nonetheless, Richter’s often worked with bright colors, as well. Won’t chance passersby be disappointed by the grey?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: That’s a question that goes back to the beginning of his work. Grey isn’t merely monochrome; it also carries special significance for Richter. The first painting that he made after his resettlement from East Germany, in 1961, was grey; later, the grey photo paintings followed until 1964, and it was only afterwards that he painted his first colorful paintings. His first monochrome paintings of 1966 were grey, this is something he’s spoken about at length: for Richter, grey is the non-color par excellence, the sum of all colors in which various positions come to expression. Grey is the color of negation, of resistance, of an inability to unify, to reconcile. That’s a spectrum from the very beginning that Richter has to be credited for.
It’s not a color that implies all that much optimism. On the other hand, there are immediate contradictions, for instance, the glass pane installation he made in Düsseldorf’s banking house Lohmann, which was painted in bright primary colors that are even penetrating, including a canary yellow. All further readings were left up to the viewer.
Do you know George Simmel’s theory of money? He speaks about the all-encompassing principle of exchange value that appeared when money was introduced and that creates an experience of horror. But I wouldn’t want to pin myself down there.
On the other hand, the architectonic dimension is unequivocal and even monumental. It addresses a culture of public commemoration, particularly in reference to Berlin. This is what constitutes the site-specificity – Berlin as a new reality, as an urban and historical reality. In Berlin, the question arises as to the nature of the political commemoration one is striving for with monuments. That the color grey resists pathos, resists the heroic seems fairly irrefutable. In this sense, Richter’s work assumes a very complicated and skeptical position when it comes to phenomena I’d like to call “prescribed memory.” Public monuments have an alibi function for the collective memory. Commemoration, however, occurs within each individual, and that’s a very important dimension of this work of Richter’s.
And so inexpressibility is at the core?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: That’s always been one of Richter’s essential strategies; in a more general sense, a radical reduction of perception and meaning took place in the art of the sixties. The responsibility for self-articulation and self-reflection became the task of the viewer. That’s typical for this generation of artists. This empty and expressionless structure makes the art hard and difficult, hermetic, and sometimes inaccessible. That’s how it was for me, as well: the work was difficult to view at first; after all, it’s nothing more than eight large panes of glass. Their size doesn’t change their emptiness one bit.
In the catalogue, you take a photograph of Paul Strand’s as your point of departure, one he made in 1915 of a building on Wall Street. The structure seems loaded, a powerful gesture people look very small standing in front of. How does this lead up to Richter’s position?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: He didn’t know the photograph; that was my own strange idea. I showed it to him after my essay was already finished, and luckily enough he was impressed by it. For me, the reference was primarily formal, even if the depicted location of Wall Street fit into my concept like a lucky accident. What interested me most about the photo was the degree to which Strand was able to represent architecture as early as 1915 in such a way that its authoritarian dimension couldn’t be overlooked. After 1915, artists became involved with this tendency again and again. What fascinates me is how one can arrive at the plastic sculptural model that Richter developed with Eight Grey, starting out with this photographic model. Richter doesn’t, of course, mimetically repeat the authoritarian structures.
As a critic and art historian, you’ve been following Gerhard Richter’s work for decades, and you know his multiplicity of styles well. Doesn’t this abundance of variation make it very difficult to write about him, because you can only grasp parts of the person at one time?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: Yes, one of the reasons I’ve been working on the book about Richter for so long and still haven’t finished certainly lies in the large number of techniques and positions. There are a few artists of the 20th century whose work has developed into a labyrinth of interpretation which critics and historians in turn have fallen victim to. In the Duchampian labyrinth, for instance, art historians have been wandering around utterly lost for twenty years already. I hope this won’t apply to me. But Richter does indeed demonstrate such a degree of multiplicity and mutability of the paradigms that dictate what art is currently supposed to be or could be, and so one has to start at the beginning again and again.
In a certain sense, that’s wonderful and sets him apart from the American Minimal artists who have been producing the same thing in variations unerringly for forty years. Ultimately, how this plurality of positions should be understood is something I’m still not entirely clear about. There’s no single sentence that explains Richter’s multiplicity. It isn’t a pluralism, it isn’t an opportunism, it’s not a position that seeks to withdraw from being pinpointed. The motivation is far more complex, and it only becomes understandable when you think about how an artist who came out of this particular nation and history was able to create a position of this kind in contemporary art.
Apropos history: Gerhard Richter is represented in Berlin’s Reichstag with a work that quotes the German national flag. Yet he also produced the RAF series on Baader-Meinhof and involved himself with the Nazi past. Is he a German artist?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh: Yes, definitely, and even essentially. He’s a German artist who approached the specific difficulties and the precarious question of what art in post-war Germany could be with just as much radicalism and yet with far more credibility than Joseph Beuys. Beuys answered these questions in a simpler way, but that’s an entirely different, long discussion.
The interview was conducted by Harald Fricke
BRUCE NAUMAN One Hundred Live and Die 1984
Tubos de neon montados em quatro monolitos metálicos | Neon tubing mounted on four metal monoliths
118 x 132 1/4 x 21 polegadas | inches
JOSEPH KOSUTH Four Words Four Colors 1966
Trabalho/peça em neon | Neon work/piece
HANS BELLMER Doll 1936
Alumínio pintado sobre base de bronze | Painted aluminum on bronze base
| 26 x 10 x 11 em/in 66 x 25.4 x 27.9 cm |
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