Gerhard Richter and Jorge Pardo

Gerhard Richter and Jorge Pardo: Refraction

September 5, 2002 - June 15, 2003

<p>Gerhard Richter. <i>Kugal (Sphere), Piz Fora</i>, 1992. <br /> Photo: Cathy Carver.</p>

Gerhard Richter. Kugal (Sphere), Piz Fora, 1992.
Photo: Cathy Carver.


For Refraction, the second exhibition to be installed in Project, Jorge Pardo's 2000 renovation of Dia's first floor lobby, exhibition space, and bookshop, a focused selection of works by Gerhard Richter has been inserted into Pardo's vibrant environment. The basis for the exhibition is the artists' shared concern for issues of framing and representation and for the interplay of the work of art with its spatial context. Together, Richter's pieces and Pardo's environment mutually question and reflect upon each other.



In 1963 Gerhard Richter exhibited his first signature works in a furniture store in Düsseldorf. A relatively recent emigrant to the West from Dresden where he had been born, raised, then trained as a painter, Richter demonstrated in this group of Capitalist Realist works a preoccupation with both the context in which painting was received and how that framing operated—physically, socially, historically, and conceptually; given his background, such concerns were not altogether surprising. Photographs gleaned from newspapers and other popular sources and snapshots from family albums provided the point of departure for these early works, which explored ways in which photography as the dominant visual language of the modern era challenges and impacts upon the production and the reception of painting. The dialectical relation between painting and photography as well as the role of painting as a form of contemporary cultural expression continue to be issues fundamental to his aesthetic.1

In the later sixties, when many of his colleagues abandoned painting for other art forms, ranging from performance to installation-based and even more experimental modes, Richter focused self-critically on his practice. Under pressure to justify, if not restore, painting's vanguard position as a viable expressive language, he embarked on an exigent scrutiny of its history and ontology. The results included a number of strategies devised to explore its origins in mimesis. The key founding myths and traditions grounding Western painting derive from the notion of a painting as either a window that offers a view onto a world beyond or a mirror, which reflects whatever is held before it. These two principal tropes—the window and the mirror—which metaphorically figured painting's relation to visuality, became his subjects. Spiegel I and II (Mirror I and II), 1989, Fenster (Window), 2002, Sieben Stehende Scheiben (Seven Standing Panes), 2002, and a group of twelve pencil studies from 1966 for glass constructions (only one of which, Vier Glasscheiben [Four Glass Panes], 1967, was realized at that time) are all based in his ongoing critique of painting as a form of illusionistic picturing.2

In the series of paintings begun in 1967 titled Fenster, Richter directly addressed abstraction, modernism's primary pictorial language. Wittily and subtly reformulating the axiom that any representation is necessarily an abstraction, he postulated, simultaneously, the converse: abstraction is inherently referential. All languages of representation, the mimetic as well as the nonfigurative, are constructs formulated according to sets of well-established pictorial codes and conventions. 9 Objekte (9 Objects), 1969, manifests this at the same time as it mocks the received belief that photography, as an indexical medium, records faithfully that which it images and, hence, offers a representation more truthful than a painted counterpart. Made by manipulating collaged photographs, these offset lithographs depict a series of geometric structures that could not exist in reality. Deceptively simple, their contradictory constructions flout the laws of coherence and consistency proper to three-dimensional existence; such "impossible" forms inhabit another realm from that of the material world. A highly reflective globe, Kugel (Sphere), 1992, extrudes its milieu from its impacted node in a panoramic sweep. Rather than receding into the single vanishing point at the heart of a one-point perspectival system that sucks all into its compass, space is here turned inside out. The world is made visible from this originary site, this omphalos.

Now spanning some forty years, Richter's oeuvre confirms his continued engagement with such elemental pictorial problems. His use of a variety of media and means in addition to those conventionally associated with the practice of painting—oil pigment, acrylic, watercolor—attests to the diversity of his strategies for probing and testing his commitment to this art form. Sieben Stehende Scheiben, the first in a new series of three-dimensional glass works stemming from those seminal sketches of 1966, confounds what is seen with what is represented. Filtering, refracting, and inflecting its environment, it affectlessly incorporates its surroundings, thereby proffering an idiosyncratic mode of working in situ. A recent addition to the eponymous group of paintings from that critical period in the late sixties, Fenster is identical in size and composition to an earlier work, which was unavailable for this exhibition. This selfsameness raises yet further issues integral to painting, specifically the notion of the masterpiece as an original, unique, and auratic work of art. Fenster is neither a replica nor an exhibition copy. Instigated by what may be considered a Borgesian as opposed to a Duchampian impulse, it is an original, and as such will be assigned a corresponding number in the forthcoming edition of Richter's ongoing catalogue raisonne.3

The history of art is repeatedly renegotiated and rewritten by the production of new art. Not only is the contemporary work of art shaped and informed by the legacy of what precedes it but, as T. S. Eliot contended, the art of the past is continually revised and reinterpreted by the work made in the present.4 With Survey (1998), Richter realized a longstanding plan to assay his own version of the canon in the guise of a diagrammatic chart based on existing judgments, not on personal taste. By referencing the omnipresence of the past (something no European of his generation felt able to deny, avoid, or ignore), this project underscores the point that indifference to the construction of art history is untenable; yet this impersonal limning of a Western cultural history in which its norms are largely but not entirely upheld also demonstrates that the history of the arts ultimately remains speculative, and any artist's place within it relative and provisory.

Born in Cuba in 1963 and relocating to the United States at the age of six, Jorge Pardo underwent a radically different formation as an artist—that is, his sociohistorical circumstances were far removed from those of Richter. A resident for several decades now in Los Angeles, he is well-versed in the city's postwar visual histories, its treasury of residential architecture, and its celebrated design and film traditions. Notwithstanding this gulf between these two artists, significant overlaps may be found in their practices—in particular, in their parallel questioning of issues relating to representation, to the place and role of the artwork, its frame, its borders, its relation to its site, and its intersection with architecture and design.5 Painting haunts, as much it obliquely informs, Pardo's practice, though it is rarely his subject in any straightforward manner. His art is as conceptually grounded as Richter's, and is similarly committed to a self-reflexive inquiry into its ontology and hermeneutics. And he, too, considers aesthetic pleasure indispensable to the reception of any work of art, a conviction that will always and necessarily be filtered by a degree of self-searching often freighted with irony or pathos.

While the new modes of art-making that emerged in the late sixties were not always directly produced by the intellectual and social ferment that rocked that era, their experimentation and critical self-questioning were dependent on, as they contributed to, fundamental revisions in the utopian modernist project.6 Conceived some three decades later, Project (2000) is shaped by and moreover engages in substantially renegotiating the residue and legacy of that decisive watershed. For Project, Pardo redesigned Dia's ground-floor gallery, bookstore, and lobby, integrating these three formerly discrete elements into a single, multifaceted entity by means of a continuous tiled floor in a vibrant palette of lime, lemon, and other citrus hues. Congruent with his holistic if hybrid conception, two murals frame the outer margins of the site like bookends, while glass partitions make the internal divisions visually porous. Eschewing finite edges, evading borders both literal and metaphorical, Project problematizes the interface between art, architecture, and design. In Refraction, his architecture actively frames the exhibits, as they in turn modify it. More directly emblematic of this relationship, Pardo's specially designed vitrine houses Richter's sketches for glass sculptures from 1966. The German artist's mirrors, occupying the back wall of the gallery, reciprocate by giving new dimensions to the younger man's work.


1. As Dave Hickey has persuasively argued, "painting changed after the advent of photography not because photography usurped its descriptive function, but because photography prioritized it, thus valorizing the referent over what it signified." (Hickey, "Richter in Tahiti," Parkett, no. 35 [March 1993], p. 87.)

2. René Magritte was very much on Richter's mind at this moment, as a singular untitled painting from 1967, made on a found framed mirror, demonstrates. Over its clear glass surface, he painted a field which resembles the curtainlike ripples found in other paintings of his from this time. He then added two small biomorphic forms rendered in a hyperillusionistic manner. A third element, a large brushmark, superimposed over the mirror's surface and spreading onto its frame, appears to have been added deliberately and precisely, like a seal or stamp.

3. Since resemblance not similitude is at stake here, Richter raises once more but in novel terms the issue of representation. Contrasting similitude with resemblance, Michel Foucault argues that "resemblance has a model," an original element that orders and hierarchizes the increasingly less faithful copies that can be struck from it." By contrast, the order of similitude is repetition, which is expressed in the guise of series with neither beginning nor end, nor any reference to an original. (Michel Foucault, This Is Not a Pipe, trans. and ed. James Harkness [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983, p. 44.)

4. T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1964), pp. 3—11.

5. Richter's most pertinent foray in these areas was the pavilion designed in collaboration with Paul Robbrecht for a suite of paintings made for Documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany, in 1992. Several sketches in Richter's encyclopedic work begun in 1964, Atlas, depict vast galleries containing his monumental paintings. These are obviously fantastical projections. But Atlas also contains technical drawings and designs for built and buildable structures, including furniture and architecture. In an interview in 1985, Richter spoke of a "dream of mine—that the pictures will become an environment or become architecture—that would be even more effective." Richter, interview by Dorothea Dietrich, The Print Collector's Newsletter 16, no. 4 (September–October 1985), p. 130.

6. For a full discussion of the complex range of Pardo's references and associations with early and late modernist predecessors—such as Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Donald Judd, and Jay Mays—refer to Lynne Cooke, Jorge Pardo: Project, exhibition brochure (New York: Dia Center for the Arts, 2000), n.p.

Lynne Cooke

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