It is humbling coming before an artist whose greatness can be clearly measured and articulated through an incisive selection of works perfectly punctuated across a suite of slowly unfolding spaces. Such was my experience of encountering ‘The Life of Images’, the survey of German artist Gerhard Richter which recently opened at the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. The oeuvre of this 85-year-old painter seems to contain and question many of the most important issues in contemporary art and, indeed, of postwar history – how can we perceive and absorb a world of collective experience framed by trauma?
It was a question that resonated with me as I travelled the full length of Richter’s Atlas overview (1962– ), the backbone of the show, which presented a selection from the artist’s extraordinary image archive in Munich – in this case over 400 panels of original source materials. I won’t even begin to describe what I saw, but encourage readers to make their own pilgrimage and draw their own meanings.
Beyond the archive, a pair of paintings seemed to perfectly convey Richter’s particular (though universal) strain of genius. With his two versions of Reader (both 1994), the artist has taken a photograph of his wife and, through the process of painting, blurred the image, and blurred it again. This translation of something intimate and personal into its opposite, a painting which enacts the very public art of looking, is the intellectual frisson running through all of Richter’s work: a simple but undeniable search for meaning. It encourages us to see with our eyes and feel with our brains.
Michael Fitzgerald, Brisbane