At the HENI Project Space, Hayward Gallery, London, an intimate as intense exhibition presents an unpublished collection of drawings by the distinguished German artist Gerhard Richter (1932, Dresden) who has pursued an autonomous idea of drawing with respect to other artistic practices since the 1960s. Focusing on a corpus of drawings from 1999-2021, with this exhibition, Richter suggests new reflections on the roles of the sign and drawing in the contemporary context, also in relation to this precise historical period. With over sixty pieces, this collection makes explicit the founding idea that for a long time has influenced Richter’s personal and intuitive research in the field of abstract composition, mainly known for his painting and video works, here reduced to a minimum according to the principle of the line. In particular, this rare collection gathers together studies from life and subsequent manipulations that took place in the artist’s studio in Cologne, resulting in a series of meditations conceived over a succession of days or weeks. In the exhibition, this determines a chronological complex where distinct sections are differently displayed according to themes, mediums, forms, compositions and dates.
Among most dated works, a series of drawings dated between April and June 1999 – including 27.4.99 (1); 4.5.99; 5.5.99; 1.6.99 – revisits a series of drawing pieces as presented for the artist’s first exhibition on this theme. The drawings from this early period clearly delineate the emergence of Richter’s abstract vision which in assimilating the fundamental traits of this language – line, points, planes, and surfaces – admirably frees himself from formal expedients by following postmodern theories to reflect on space in terms of deconstruction and semiotics, ultimately focusing on a rhythm of composition that is evoked by the vivid and expressive use of strokes of graphite in a becoming of nuances and erasures.
This is followed by a distinct series of pictorial photographs begun in 2008 – including works 3.1.08; 12.1.08; 22.1.08; 25.2.08 – from which we perceive a reflection on the essential features of the scraping and levelling techniques widely adopted by the artist in his paintings. Among all, the chromatic tone of the colour grey, which has always been dear to the artist and often used to blur the image from representation and exclude it from any possible external reference, is used here to partially obscure the photographic image of a forest, making reality and abstraction merge in the same image. In this sense, Richter suggests how in addition to drawing, the question of the sign well applies to photography to reflect upon the ambivalent function of the sign itself between the positive and the negative, in a free game of experimentation, revelation and concealment.
Among the most recent productions, one can find the series of works in pencil and pastel on paper dating back to November 2017 – including the works 15.11.2017; 17.11.2017; 11.27.2019 – which all stand out for the vividness of the chromatic tones and the luminosity contrasts as if reverberating with an optimistic fervour wisely governed by the artist through the silhouettes of clear and precise lines emerging on the paper surface.
From 2020-2021, two more intimate and introspective series of drawings are set on display. Simply using graphite on paper, the 2020 series – including 3.8.2020; 20.9.2020; 1.10.2020; 22.11.2020 – reaches a sublime as well as infinite essentiality by intentionally avoiding any representation or decoration to focus instead on the relationship between figures and space almost in a surrealist vision where a number of silhouettes float in a space that is difficult to circumscribe as if they are suspended in a clear sky. In counterpoint, a small series of drawings in pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper suggests the becoming of new, positive events through the flow of elements such as line and colour which reach the viewer like a palpable caress. At the end of the exhibition, the series of graphite drawings on paper dating back to January 2021 – including the works 4.1.2021; 20.1.2021; 23.1.2021; 1.16.2021 – evokes the subtle as well as audacious attempt by the artist to free composition from formal expedients as a modern Prometheus in search for new real and the spiritual spaces.
The exhibition Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021 reaffirms the role of the artist in the contemporary scene by reflecting on how between reality and abstraction, his practice is a guideline for rethinking society and politics through artistic vision. The exhibition is accompanied by a poster and a catalogue raisonné by Michael Newman published by HENI.
Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999–2021
09/09/2021 – 12/12/2021
HENI Project Space, Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
Installation view of Gerhard Richter Drawings, 1999-2021 at Hayward Gallery, 2021 © Gerhard Richter, 2021. Photo Rob Harris
Gerhard Richter, 22. Juli 2020, 2020, pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper; paper: 420 x 593 mm; framed: 520 x 730 mm, copyright – © Gerhard Richter 2021 (19032021), courtesy – The Artist
Gerhard Richter, 24. Juli 2020, 2020, pencil, ink and coloured ink on paper; paper: 420 x 593 mm; framed: 520 x 730 mm. Copyright – © Gerhard Richter 2021 (19032021) courtesy – The Artist
Gerhard Richter, 19.1.20 21, 2021, pencil and graphite on paper; paper: 210 x 297 mm, framed: 300 x 420 mm; copyright – © Gerhard Richter 2021 (19032021), courtesy – The Artist
She is interested in the visual, verbal and textual aspects of the Modern Contemporary Arts. From historical-artistic studies at the Cà Foscari University, Venice, she has specialized in teaching and curatorial practice at the IED, Rome, and Christie’s London. The field of her research activity focuses on the theme of Light from the 1950s to current times, ontologically considering artistic, phenomenological and visual innovation aspects.