by Sheena Wagstaff and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 2020. 270 p. ill. ISBN 9781588396853 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed November 2020
Lee Sorensen, Visual Studies Librarian, Duke University, firstname.lastname@example.org
A casual browser in a library with four different books on the artist Gerhard Richter might think they were about four different artists. Richter refused to work in a particular style, medium or subject matter, though painting was his preference. The result are works as diverse as suspended glass panels tilted at contrasting angles, minimalist painted squares covering an entire wall, paintings of black-and-white photos blurring the content, wall hangings several stories high and canvases effaced of all obvious content. All of that is Richter.
Richter’s work is hard to summarize and none of the seven contributors to this cataloged tried. A retrospective catalog is an excellent medium for this artist’s work; many voices address many aspects of his work. These voices include Sheena Wagstaff, a curator and organizer of this Met show, Benjamin Buchloh and Hal Foster, art historians at Harvard and Princeton, and German academics Andre Rottmann and Peter Geimer. This catalog is all the more important to buy because Covid-19 curtailed the viewable dates of this show (though an extension was created). Like the exhibition itself, mounted at the Met Breuer, the catalog presents uncluttered viewing with large-format reproductions (some fold out) and text.
If Richter has a recurring subject in his art it is disaster. His photo paintings of the 1960s are perhaps the most articulate response by a German citizen to the Shoa historical atrocity. He rejected reproducing scenes of the horrors. Likewise, he discounted creating non-objective art as too vague for its topic. Instead (and this explanation is far too simplified) he rendered his subjects recognizable but blurred in imitation of the fuzzy clandestine co-called Sonderkommando photos of naked executed Birkenau bodies being burned. He differently returned to this approach later by creating a painting of a World Trade Center tower on fire with a large-brush action-painting gesture across it. One of the meanings is clear: memories of atrocities change with time and with it the feelings of responsibility and the lessons learned. As America deals with its history of racism and citizens who denied complicity with complacency, Richter’s art, sadly, is all the more relevant. And this is only one aspect of his arts.
Though many art library budgets will be reduced this year because of the pandemic, this reviewer recommends placing Painting After All high on the “must get” list. It is beautifully assembled, hardback only, with a rich red buckram spine (remember buckram?). The catalog exposes Richter’s art to numerous fields of study, political science, history and cultural studies to name just three. At $50 it isn’t particularly expensive for an art book (any new book, actually) and within the field of art and art history will interest many students and scholars.