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May 30, 2017

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A stunning 'Panorama' of Gerhard Richter

"I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no program, no style, no direction. I like the indefinite, the boundless. I like continual uncertainty."

— German artist Gerhard Richter

From now until Sep. 24, the Centre Pompidou in Paris presents a selection of 150 works of one of the greatest figures of contemporary painting — Gerhard Richter.

The "Panorama" retrospective, held in collaboration with London's Tate Modern, and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, offers a unique insight into the artist's career from the 1960s to his most recent works. The exhibition also highlights his uncanny ability to reinvent and transform himself while promoting a new vision of painting and art history.

Ever since the start of his career, Richter has been experimenting with radically different pictorial styles ranging from "photo-paintings" in the 1960s, to abstraction in the 1970s and portrait, landscape and historical painting in the 1980s. By the end of the 20th century, the artist fine-tuned what would become his signature technique of spreading wet paint with a large wooden or metal board.

The "Panorama" follows the aforementioned chronology to showcase the artist's works in nine rooms. Among other highlights in Room 1, the Centre Pompidou features a collection of his work, titled "Painting Photography," inspired directly from photographs. During that period, Richter became established as an alternative to American Pop Art and European informal art, defending a new vision of painting. His selection of subjects made him one of the first artists of his generation to face up to Germany's Nazi past and the emergence of a Western consumer culture.

In Room 4, the museum presents a collection of lyrical compositions, titled "Releasing Abstraction," in which gestures surge with energy to create breathtaking contrasts on canvases of monumental format. According to the artist's statement, this pictorial space was not constructed to be harmonious, but complex: the paintings of Richter function like models "of a varied and constantly changing world."

Furthermore, Room 5 features the artist's abstract paintings created with a large wooden plank and a metal squeegee, which the artist uses to spread wet paint, giving the paintings a fluid aspect with multiple hues. The veil of paint thus spread partially hides the underlying surface and allows only some details of the canvas to emerge. At a later stage, the artist then scratches and tears off pieces of the canvases in an ongoing process of construction and deconstruction.

As with his abstracts from the preceding decade, Richter accepts the appearance of figurative forms in these works, and explains how this is often inevitable: the spectator cannot prevent him or herself from seeing something even in the most abstract paintings, "because everything is rooted in the world; everything relates in some way to the world and experience." ■

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