Gerhard Richter began a career-long focus on conveying the significance and depth of painting in the early 1960s. At the time, many considered painting to be socially insignificant, however, the medium carried physical, social, and conceptual weight to the artist. Richter strove to identify this medium as more than bourgeois and turned to photography to further emphasize painting’s meaning. Photography was an accessible medium; thus, by examining photographs from various sources, such as newspapers or personal snapshots, Richter succeeded in relaying its impact on the production and reception of painting.
Richter’s Gray Paintings, begun in 1967–68, continued to assess the status of painting. These works, which superimpose a nondescript gray hue over a reflective surface, confront the monochrome approach as a dead end of modernist painting and subtly relay the loss of a “pictorial experience.” For the artist, gray expresses “neither feelings nor associations.”
In 1981 Richter produced the first of his mirror works, which, expelling all traces of their maker, instead absorb the world around them, in all its transitory serendipity. Subsuming spectators, the mirrors deprive them of any stable relationship to space. Meanwhile, Richter’s practice has progressively turned to a fusion of architecture, painting, sculpture, and decor.
Richter’s Six Gray Mirrors (2003) combines the style and intentions conveyed in his Gray Paintings and the glass-and-mirror works. Six gray-enameled glass panels hang from the walls on supports that allow them to be tilted at various angles. Their neutral depths not only reflect visitors but also respond to the light from the high windows, combining architecture, sculpture, and painting into a synthetic whole. The somber appearance of the work simultaneously negates and combines Richter’s passion for glass, mirror, and monochrome.