Gerhard Richter - Florence13

Gerhard Richter produced his Firenze series in spring 2000. It consists of a total of 103 photographs that have been painted over by the artist. One hundred of those works are reproduced in this volume. Most of the works are views of Florence dating from October 1999, complemented by photographs taken in Cologne and interrupted by a single snapshot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (29.1. 2000).
Richter has trimmed the originally rectangular prints down to a unified 12 x 12 centimetres square format. This format is that of a CD; the series was originally planned as an edition with accompanying music CD. Firenze covers the time period from 23.11.1999 to 21.3.2000, although the artist has interrupted the continuous dating several times. Moreover, the dates indicate neither the day of the take, nor the day of the overpainting, but, as titles, simply serve to identify and catalogue the works. Their function corresponds therefore to that of the numbers of his paintings.

The series opens with a presentation of the group of travellers, the artist in the circle of his family and friends. This is followed—as a kind of intermezzo—by black-and-white photographs of abstract details of pictorial surfaces. Starting with the 1.12.1999, the works show views from the artist’s former studio on Bismarckstrasse in Cologne. On 21. 12. 1999 a new landscape can be seen. The remaining photographs were taken towards the end of that year in the woods round about his new studio on the periphery of Cologne. The following year, the scene shifts to Florence and different views of the cathedral and neighbouring Baptistry, as of 7.1. 2000. Various takes of the Arno, the bridges across the river and the buildings on its banks follow. Richter has included several prints of most of these views in the Firenze series.

Sometimes the photographs were taken so soon after each other that the spectator scarcely perceives the time difference (21.1.2000 and 22.1.2000). For reproduction in this publication Gerhard Richter has chosen a format that is one centimetre larger than the original, a minimal intervention, much as in his graphic works Hood (1996) and Erster Blick (2000). Through this manipulation, which the reader scarcely notices, Richter creates a certain distance to the original, introducing a moment of alienation into the reproduction and thereby granting it a quality of its own. However, the reproduction can only aspire to this status here because Richter breaks with perceptual conventions and reverses the hierarchy between original and reduced reproduction.

Despite their modest formats, these overpainted photographs concentrate Gerhard Richter’s main artistic concept: a sceptical questioning of our experiences of reality and an attempt to grasp that reality with the help of different painterly processes. The first painting listed in the register of works, Tisch, 1962, presents this problem of imitative depiction and abstract gesture as an equivalent juxtaposition of different painterly possibilities on one pictorial plane. Later, Gerhard Richter repeatedly
reconnoitred this border area, questioning, among other things, the concept of reality in naturalistic landscapes by way of later, abstract overpaintings. These paintings were followed in 1989 by the first overpainted photographs, which Richter integrated into his work Atlas on two panels. Having gained some experience with this medium, he described the tense relationship between the different aspirations to reality of photography and painting in an interview: « Photography has almost no reality, it is quasi just picture. And painting always has reality; the paint is tangible, has presence: but it always results in a picture … I have taken small photographs which I then smeared with paint. This brought aspects of the problem together. »

Gerhard Richter painted over the photographs by pulling the pictorial surfaces over the still damp paint on the wide rubber squeegees he had previously worked with on the large format paintings. The photographic representation gains in intensity through the overpainting and provides further perceptual possibilities for the spectator. The paint lies on the photograph like a foreign body and thus creates a kind of contradiction, distance, and hardness. Whereas here the overpainting counteracts the mood of the subject, in other examples it can also intensify that mood. Then, the illusionist depiction melds with the materiality of the paint to form a new indissoluble pictorial unit. However, the process of overpainting cannot be monitored and only partially predicted. For this reason, only the final judicious eye of the artist can decide on the work; Gerhard Richter has discarded many of the finished products and torn up the photographs.

The artist has modified his overpainting technique for the Firenze series and thereby brought it closer to his work on the paintings. He has gained more control over the process by using a practical paint knife to apply the paint to the photographic motif and then scrape it off again. Richter thus achieves here what is already guaranteed in his canvas paintings: a balance between structures arrived at by chance and deliberate graphic interventions and corrections.

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Elger Dietmar, Gerhard Richter : Florence, Hatje Kantz, 2001