Gerhard Richter biography

Gerhard Richter was born to Horst and Hildegard Richter in Dresden on February 9, 1932. Having married the year before, Gerhard was their first child, with a daughter, Gisela, arriving in 1936. Horst Richter, with whom Gerhard did not have a close relationship, was a teacher at a secondary school in Dresden.1 Hildegard was a bookseller and, like her father, a talented pianist. She was passionate about literature, and passed on her enthusiasm and knowledge to the young Gerhard. They were, in many respects, an average middle-class family. In an interview with Robert Storr Richter described his early family life as “simple, orderly, structured – mother playing the piano and the father earning money”.

Richter’s Academic years

On defecting to West Germany, Richter was considering moving to Munich, but made the significant decision to set up his new life in Düsseldorf following advice from Reinhard Graner, a friend already living in the city and with whom he stayed for the first few weeks. The city’s art academy [Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf] was a hive of activity and progressive in its outlook, and despite having already completed his studies in Dresden, Richter decided to apply to study there, in part to become better informed about the current trends in the western art world, but also to find fellow artists with whom he could really engage. As a student, he was also guaranteed a stipend, which was vital for his survival during these first years in the west. Beginning his course in October 1961, he painted intensely (as he had done all summer): “I tried out everything I could”.2 Starting off in the class of Ferdinand Macketanz, Richter later described his work of the time as “varying in style between Dubuffet, Giacometti, Tàpies, and many others.”3 While he was unhappy with many of his paintings – and subsequently destroyed the majority of them – it was an important process of experimentation that demonstrated both his enthusiasm and commitment to his work, and certainly helped to establish his presence within the Academy.

Abstractive art

By the start of the 1970s, Richter’s career and international reputation were gathering momentum, although it may not necessarily have seemed that way to Richter at the time. It was to be a difficult but significant decade. In spring 1970 he exhibited at Konrad Fischer’s gallery for the first time. Fischer had been becoming increasingly powerful and his gallery’s emphasis on Minimalism, Conceptualism and Formalism (including Carl Andre, Bruce Nauman, Fred Sandback, On Kawara, Richard Long and Sol LeWitt) ensured Richter was in close contact with the latest developments in international contemporary art at a time when painting was considered by many to be outdated. As Robert Storr asserts: “Richter felt more at home with much of this new work than he did with that of other painters then on the rise […]”. Richter, for his part, was busy addressing the quandary in which painting presently found itself – a quandary that was inextricably interwoven with the development of his own practice at this time.

Consoldation and evolution

As the 1990s began, Richter was busy with his Abstract Paintings, to which he dedicated himself almost exclusively for the first year. After a hectic couple of years in terms of his exhibitions schedule and increasing demands from the art world, he was keen to try to keep things manageable, postponing several exhibitions to which he had been committed. Richter’s consistently formidable productivity and prolific output can often mask the sheer volume of administration, travel and communication needed to maintain a top-flight career in the art world, not to mention the need for space to think and to develop new ideas.

More known

At the turn of the millennium, Richter was increasingly focussed on his Abstract Paintings, with three paintings of his young son Moritz notable exceptions to this trend. Transparency, translucency, opacity and reflection were still clearly subjects with which the artist was engaging at this time, almost a decade since his last concerted period to have addressed them. Eight Grey in 2001 heralded a number of works the following year that brought glass to centre stage. Works such as Pane of Glass, 4 Standing Panes and 7 Standing Panes demonstrated an interest in pushing wall-based works into the realm of the sculptural.