a painting isn't really a painting.
of us who care about painting in New York the real tragedy of our
time is how low our three contemporary art museums
have sunk. I've written at length about the Whitney Museum, and recently
others have written about the Guggenheim Museum's esthetic implosion
driven by greed and a thirst for power. Now it's MoMa's turn. The
Modern has debased its reputation for quality with its mildly offensive
slightly nauseating Gerhard Richter retrospective of utterly mediocre
pastiches of style pretending to be paintings. The exhibition continues
until May and like a virus infection I suppose we have to let it
run its course.
about criticizing another painter and while Richter isn't
a painter that I admire, I have sympathy for him. His paintings
are derivative, eclectic and non-committal; he straddles the fence
realism and conceptual art. He's an opportunist and a deconstructivist,
and at best a minor painter. There are perhaps less than six paintings
out of a hundred and eighty-eight in the show that stand on their
His bland, mechanical use of a variety of styles, motifs and materials,
his dependence on photography and his trademark blurry surface
streaks while weak and gimmicky trap him in a middle ground of mediocrity.
While he's no worse than scores of less financially successful painters and
he is undeniably prolific and he is very canny and clever about
he paints, Richter just isn't that good. A jack of trades, Richter
is an illustrator with the soul of an efficient postal clerk, (no offense
meant to hard-working postal clerks). A shrewd strategist, an intellectual
game player, Richter offers nothing new or particularly exemplary
in his work. His work isn't particularly bad either. His work usually appears
to be well made, sort of neutral, slick, slicker, and slickest.
other people's styles, and he recreates other artist's ideas, and
sadly his work adheres to no real standard of quality. Nothing is delivered
beyond the bland, clever and hollow ideas, at best falling into
the realm of Conceptual Art. Smeary photo realist portraits, Pop
and other mundane
images from the sixties, done in ghostly gray. There are gray figurative
works, and blurry gray smeary photo realist landscapes and cityscapes.
Seascapes, historical allegories and since the eighties blurry
focus photo realist portraits and still lifes and large and small
Lyrical Abstractions in garish colors and slick surfaces.
A young student of mine, who doesn't really know the history of
the art world during the last forty years (through no fault of
said, "Richter is
a liberator". I say he is a rip off artist and in the New Republic last
month perhaps Jed Perl said it best: "Gerhard Richter is a bullshit artist
masquerading as a painter". I recommend any interested reader to Jed
Perl's complete essay in The New Republic entitled Saint Gerhard of the Sorrows
I'd prefer to talk about the circumstances that allow the Museum of Modern
Art, to suppress thirty-five years of great abstract painting while curator
Storr tells us that essentially Richter's champions say that painting is
dead except for Gerhard Richter and his close friends. According to the
post-modernist theorists paintings as paintings aren't viable except when
the tiny circle elite that determines these things, give their stamp of
approval. It's an amalgam of big lies piled on big lies that have fueled
Anti-Art circles for about forty years. Painting is dead, No-one paints
anymore, are a
couple of the standard lies often told and repeated ad-nausea. Only this
lie attracts big money. Because really we are simply entrenched in a modern
game, a sting, proposing a Neo-Dada, Post-Duchampian, Nihilistic/Post-painting
is dead/ as a concept, post-political world, but that commentary will wait
for another time. It looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like
a duck, acts
like a duck, sounds like a duck, swims like a duck, hangs like a duck but
it says it isn't a duck. It sells itself in the duck market, and it's reviewed
duck critics, that conveniently don't like ducks, either. Man, what a market
strategy. In the age of the emperor's new clothes Richter's emporium while
not exactly being new, is certainly naked. It helps to view his work with
skepticism and a sense of humor. Great painting speaks for itself visually
but the Richter retrospective remains silent.
If you really want to be permanently paranoid, think about Richter advocates
taking over the art world in a Neo-Fascist coup, rooting out and destroying
all works of high quality that put Richter into focus, and maybe they are
doing it. There are better Portrait painters than Richter. There are better
Landscape Painters than Richter. There are dozens of Pop Artists who are
less arcane, far more original, more versatile and much wittier than Richter.
Jim Dine is an artist Richter seems to have ripped off quite frequently
that comes immediately to mind. Finally there are Richter's slick and lifeless
of Lyrical Abstraction that underscore the hypocrisy of this endeavor.
Since the mid-eighties he paints abstract paintings in a manner similar
to the way Jules Olitski and countless others used to paint in the early
Richter's work particularly brings to mind the work of William Pettet,
Darby Bannard, and dozens of abstract squee-gee painters who came to prominence
the sixties and seventies and who's careers have been harshly squashed
and suppressed by the Anti-Art crowd since. Museums across the world own
great paintings by
Lyrical Abstractionists that have been suppressed for thirty-five years
and proudly give us these third rate ghoulish versions jimmied up for easy
young abstract American painters were shown in Germany in the mid to late
sixties including Peter Young, Lawrence Stafford and dozens of others.
I suspect they
directly influenced Richter's abstraction.
The catalogue is impressive, lavishly produced and illustrated with hundreds
of color reproductions and a long dull historically incorrect essay designed
to impress and elicit sympathy by Storr. There is an interview between
curator Robert Storr and Richter in which Storr slavishly seems to hang
every ambiguous non-committal word. The exhibition includes one hundred
and eighty-eight paintings, reflecting this essentially minor figure's
forty- year career.
Finally in the immortal words of another one of my students "who cares." Unfortunately
and apparently the Modern does care, and so much the worse for the rest of
Ronnie Landfield, New York City, April 2002