gerhard richter (born 1932) is a visual artist. he studied art at the kunstakademie dresden and the kunstakademie düsseldorf. in the early 1960s richter was exposed to both american and british pop art, which was just becoming known in europe, and to the fluxus movement. richter consistently regarded himself simply as a painter. he began to paint enlarged copies of black-and-white photographs using only a range of greys.
the evident reliance on a ready-made source gave richter's paintings an apparent objectivity that he felt was lacking in abstract art of the period. the indistinctness of the images that emerged in the course of their transformation into thick layers of oil paint helped free them of traditional associations and meaning. richter concentrated exclusively on the process of applying paint to the surface.
as early as 1966 he had made paintings based on colour charts. although these paintings, like those based on photographs, were still dependent on an existing artefact, all that was left in them was the naked physical presence of colour as the essential material of all painting.
all vestiges of subject-matter seem to have been abandoned by richter in the paintings that he began to produce in 1976. even these supposedly wholly invented paintings retained a second-hand look, as if the brushstrokes had been copied from photographic enlargements.
since 1980 richter has made his abstract paintings by manipulating squeegees, spatulas of different lengths, loaded with paint, across areas of the canvas, with new layers of colour covering earlier ones. richter’s inability to control the precise distribution of paint allows a degree of chance to determine the paintings’ final appearance. richter has stated that abstract paintings ‘visualise a reality which we can neither see nor describe but which we may nevertheless conclude to exist’.
the extreme variety of richter's work left him open to criticism, but his rejection of an artificially maintained consistency of style was a conscious conceptual act that allowed him to investigate freely the basic principles of painting.
gerhard richter first began exhibiting in düsseldorf in 1963. a traveling retrospective at düsseldorf's kunsthalle in 1986 was followed in 1991 by a retrospective at the tate gallery, london. richter's first north american retrospective was in 1998 at the art gallery of ontario and at the museum of contemporary art, chicago. in 2002, a 40-year retrospective of richter's work was held at the museum of modern art, new york. gerhard richter’s work is currently on display in a retrospective marking his 80th birthday, gerhard richter: panorama, at the neue nationalgalerie, berlin, following an earlier presentation at tate modern, london and before travelling onto centre georges pompidou, paris. he has participated in countless international art shows, including the venice biennale (1972, 1980, 1984, 1997 and 2007), as well as documenta v (1972), vii (1982), viii (1987), ix (1992), and x (1997). he has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the praemium imperiale, tokyo, (1997); the oskar kokoschka prize, vienna (1985); and arnold bode prize, kassel, germany (1981). richter’s work is in the permanent collections of most of the world’s major institutions, including the museum of modern art (moma, new york), tate (london), centre pompidou (paris), and guggenheim (new york).