Gerhard Richter Painting
“Gerhard Richter Painting,” the new documentary about the eponymous painter had its U.S. theatrical premiere yesterday at Film Forum, where it will run until March 27. The film delivers what its title promises. Gerhard Richter, considered to be one of the world’s greatest contemporary painters, creates and speaks about his life and life’s work.
Seeing Richter’s technique, which involves scraping paint from a painted canvas, while simultaneously applying paint to the same canvas, for me conjured up the old argument about abstract art, specifically how do we define it? Perhaps Richter himself has the right idea when he offers the opinion, “It’s pointless to talk about painting.”
Richter, 80-years-old at the time the film was shot, is not satisfied with his progress on two paintings that he is making side by side. He is frustrated and also embarrassed that the camera is capturing him at a moment like this. The documentary’s German director Corinna Belz said of filming Richter at work, “I think it was more about finding out whether a film could work at all; about asking ‘Can I work with a camera behind me?’”
For the viewer it is hard to see what exactly Richter finds to be so daunting in the creation of the two paintings. In the modern art world it is often difficult to see what the artist is after. Richter elaborates that “each painting is an assertion that tolerates no company.” By contrast, in considering art that is more representational, which, I am sure, poses its own challenges, it is more a matter of, “How well does the artist paint a face, a landscape, a horse, etc?” However in abstract art it is not as easy to see. Here again Richter perhaps puts it best by offering that, “painting is a secretive business.”
What we have in “Gherard Richter Painting” is two artists at work, the filmmaker and the painter. One is trying to not get in the way of the other. Belz explains that, “it was clear from the start that the film should focus on the production of a series of paintings. I wanted to film how he paints, but I was not certain it would be possible. His assistants occasionally discussed it with him, but I didn’t know he was going to start a major new series. In the end I waited one and a half years. In March 2009, I met him by chance at a private viewing and he said: ‘I’m starting a painting tomorrow, you can come along.’”
“Gerhard Richter Painting” jumps back and forth in time showing a younger Richter painting during the 1960s and 1970s which, intercut with the contemporary footage, gives a sense of Richter’s development as an artist. While admittedly I am one of those who does not quite “get” his work, I left “Gerhard Richter Painting” impressed with Richter’s sincerity and commitment to his art.
Film Forum is located at 209 W. Houston Street. For more information go to www.filmforum.com.
“Gerhard Richter at Work,” director Corinna Belz, 2011,
Kino Lorber, 97 minutes