Berlin museum displays works by artist who grapples with Germany’s Nazi past
BERLIN (AP) – A new show of works by one of Germany’s most famous living artists, Gerhard Richter, opened at the Neue Nationalgalerie museum in Berlin on Friday.
“Gerhard Richter. 100 Works for Berlin” shows for the first time the long-term loan from the artist’s establishment. At the center of the exhibition is Richter’s 2014 series, “Birkenau”, the result of the artist’s many years of engagement with Germany’s Nazi history and the Holocaust.
The four large canvases of the Birkenau series are abstract paintings with many gray and black surfaces, but also some dashes of red and green.
The basis of these pictures are four photographs taken secretly in 1944 by Jewish prisoners at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, who risked their lives. Richter transferred the four photographs with charcoal and oil onto the canvas and then gradually painted over them with oil paint until their content was no longer visible.
Richter’s process of abstraction was based on his conviction that he could not do justice to the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust with direct representation.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis and their henchmen murdered 6 million European Jews.
In the gallery across from the Birkenau paintings there is a large mirror that reflects not only the four works, but also visitors who are therefore part of the installation.
“I think that is what makes this work so central and so intense, that as a visitor you are really questioned about your responsibility during the Nazi era and about your position on the Holocaust,” said Maike Steinkamp, curator of the exhibition.
“Richter doesn’t give us an analysis, but allows us as viewers to form our own opinion,” Steinkamp added.
Richter, who is 91, lives in the west of the city of Cologne. His oeuvre spans six decades in which he has repeatedly explored the possibilities and limits of painting as well as the tension between abstraction and verisimilitude.
In 2021, the Gerhard Richter Foundation committed a total of 100 works of art to the Nationalgalerie collection on permanent loan which will be transferred to the 20th Century Museum under construction next door and due for completion in 2026.
“We are building a special exhibition room for the long-term loan to Gerhard Richter in the new building,” said Klaus Biesenbach, director of the Neue Nationalgalerie.
Biesenbach said the current gallery is “a little smaller than the new building will be, but it’s just as complex and diverse.”
Until the opening of the new museum, the works will be presented at the Neue Nationalgalerie. All 100 will not be displayed at once, they will be rotated.
Along with the “Birkenau” series, there are many other works from various stages of Richter’s career including a large group of overpainted photographs.
There is also “4900 Colors” from 2007, which consists of 196 individual square panels, each subdivided into 25 color squares.
The exhibition was carried out in close collaboration with the artist, the museum said.