A Long-Term Collaboration Gets Underway: Gerhard Richter’s Series Birkenau at the Alte Nationalgalerie

Alte Nationalgalerie

At the Alte Nationalgalerie, which has once again opened its doors after being forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerhard Richter’s four-part work Birkenau is now on display – the central work to come out of a long-term collaboration between the GERHARD RICHTER KUNSTSTIFTUNG and the Nationalgalerie. The show, which is supported by the Kuratorium Preussischer Kulturbesitz, will be on display from 16 March to 3 October 2021.

The presentation of Birkenau marks the first instalment in a long-term collaboration between the GERHARD RICHTER KUNSTSTIFTUNG and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Nationalgalerie. The GERHARD RICHTER KUNSTSTIFTUNG is providing the museum with more than 100 works from various phases of the German artist’s oeuvre, from single works such as Squatters’ House (1989) and significant glass and mirror works such as Mirror, Grey (1991) and 6 Standing Panes (2002/2011), through to serial paintings from his later works, such as 4,900 Colours (2007), Strip (2013), and a series of his abstract paintings from recent years.    

The Exhibition Reflections on Painting and the Series Birkenau

Under the title Reflections on Painting, from 16 March to 3 October 20201, the Alte Nationalgalerie will be showing Gerhard Richter’s Birkenau series. The series is made up of four large-format, abstract paintings from 2014, and is the outcome of the artist’s long and in-depth engagement with the Holocaust. In this area, Richter has been particularly concerned with the question of the extent to which it is possible to represent this unparalleled genocide at all.

The four Birkenau paintings are based on four photographs that were taken covertly by a detainee in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Gerhard Richter painted the photographs on four canvases. But when that didn’t work, he began to gradually paint over them. The resulting abstract paintings thus occupy a liminal space between showing and not-showing, documenting and commemorating.

Long-Term Collaboration between the GERHARD RICHTER KUNSTSTIFTUNG and the Nationalgalerie

Beginning in 2023, significant parts of the Nationalgalerie’s Gerhard Richter collection will be placed on exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie. Their ultimate destination is the new building at the Kulturforum, the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts. The Birkenau series will be situated at the centre of the museum, where it will be on permanent display, in recognition of its momentous impact and significance for German history. As such, the presentation of Gerhard Richter’s art in the new building will remain open to contemporary discussions and debates. To this end, the Nationalgalerie will be putting together rotating presentations for this space, opening up new perspectives on Richter’s work. It is also possible that contemporary artists will respond to the work of Gerhard Richter, something the artist himself welcomes.