Gerhard Richter Artist’s Books

10.02.2022 to 29.05.2022
Neue Nationalgalerie

On the occasion of Gerhard Richter’s 90th birthday, the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library) at the Neue Nationalgalerie is mounting a major survey exhibition of his artist’s books for the first time. The books, for which Richter consistently drew on his own imagery and experimented with abstract processes, are indispensible for understanding his oeuvre and self-image as an artist. With works from the Kunstbibliothek, the Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett, as well as loans from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (State Art Collections) and the Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne, the exhibition provides unique insight into the artist’s inner world.

Gerhard Richter (b. 9 February 1932 in Dresden) is one of world’s best-known and most successful contemporary artists. For decades his art has fascinated many through its painterly methods, intelligent subject matter and consistent changes in working methods, from the first blurred grey pictures based on photographs to the colourful abstract paintings. Richter’s first artist’s book was produced in 1966 in collaboration with Sigmar Polke. Since then, books have become essential to understanding his works and self-image as an artist.

The Artists' Books in the Context of the Complete Oeuvre

The exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie’s Graphic Gallery, Richter’s artist’s books are presented together with prints from the Kupferstichkabinett and complemented by the large abstract painting Atelier from the Nationalgalerie collection – a work paradigmatic of his oeuvre. The Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, which has published almost all of Gerhard Richter’s artist’s books, has provided numerous publications that can be leafed through, discovered and read. Valuable special and limited editions, preliminary designs and letters from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden’sGerhard Richter Archive round off the special exhibition.

Three Themes of the Exhibition: Self-Image, Photography, Chance

The Image of the Artist explores how Gerhard Richter stages himself as the creator of his paintings. His self-image as a painter emerged in books and catalogues, prints, invitations and posters in response to the many variations and shifts in society’s expectations of an artist. He made use of parody, masquerade and play, with particular emphasis on irony and humour, in his efforts to avoid being pinned down to one style of painting.

The Image of Photographyshows the photographic reproductions of his painted pictures that enabled Richter to separate the paintings from their supports and gain distance. New contexts emerged in books through his use of the technique of photographic enlargement to the level of extreme detail. In the books countless photographs by Gerhard Richter replaced images previously sourced from the press, overpainted with lacquer or included in the atlas, a large archive of the artistic work.

The exhibition’s third section, The Image of Chance, reveals the interplay of calculation and chance in Gerhard Richter’s work. In his search for new pictorial subject matter, he brought chance into play as the artist’s counterpart, following the example of compositions by John Cage and Steve Reich, and using chance to dissect and assemble the texts in books in controlled operations or to experiment with the dynamics of colours and patterns in images.

The exhibition also provides a glimpse of the increased cooperation between the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s collections in the future Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum of the 20th Century). Both the Kunstbibliothek and the Kupferstichkabinett will have their own exhibition areas at the Nationalgalerie’s new venue to present their rich holdings.

Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts

The Gerhard Richter Art Foundation is also providing 100 works to the Nationalgalerie for its Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts as a long-term loan – including important individual paintings such as Besetztes Haus (1989, Squatters’ House) and series of works such as the four-part cycle Birkenau (2014). Beginning in 1923, selected works from the loan will be presented in the Neue Nationalgalerie’s Graphic Gallery. After completion of the building by Herzog & De Meuron, they will be displayed in the space dedicated to Gerhard Richter’s art on the museum’s upper floor.

The Nationalgalerie collection already includes numerous works by Gerhard Richter, including major works such as Vorhang III (1965, Curtain III) or Seestück (See-See) (1970, Seascape [Sea-Sea]). As early as 1986, the Neue Nationalgalerie hosted the special exhibition Gerhard Richter. Bilder 1962–1985 in its lower level. This was followed in 2012 by the large retrospective, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, in the upper hall.

The exhibition is being shown in cooperation with the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, which are also supporting the exhibition with loans. This also provides a multimedia perspective on the future at the Kulturforum, at the center of which Herzog & De Meuron's Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts will open and in whose exhibition spaces the most diverse media of art will find a new place of dialogue through the broad spectrum of the collections.

Exhibition Catalogue 

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by the Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne. Gerhard Richter: Künstlerbücher 1966–2021, an annotated catalogue raisonné of the books and of original contributions in other publications, is in preparation at the same publisher.

A special exhibition by the Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with the Gerhard Richter Archive, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne and the Nationalgalerie and Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

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