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In The Field: Gerhard Richter at Neue Nationalgalerie

Inside Gerhard Richter artist's books and Capitalistic Realism.


In The Field: Gerhard Richter at Neue Nationalgalerie

This summer we were fortunate to travel to Berlin where a trip to the Neue Nationalgalerie quickly became a highlight. The building is the last major construction completed by Mies van Der Rohe. It perfectly exemplifies Mies’ fascination with creating fluid, open spaces. Inside the building was a Gerhard Richter exhibition in celebration of his 90th birthday. The exhibition, titled Gerhard Richter Artist’s Books, gave insight into the artists process and character. Richter’s seemingly complex relationship with photography and scientific interest in images of all types led him to creating books. Books have a native tendency for seriality, repetition and detail. This has allowed Richter to experiment with an alternate medium but also an environment for a close looking that is central to his artistic sensibility.

Throughout his life, Richter has tested the ability of art to reckon with personal history, collective memory, and identity, particularly in the context of post World War II German society. He coined the term Kapitalistischer Realism’s (Capitalistic Realism), for the style of anti-art in which he, Konrad Lueg, Manfred Kuttner and Sigmar Polke worked on in the 1960s, which utilized imagery, techniques and typography of advertisement. These graphics, which you can see in the photos, were highlights of the exhibition.

Richter, Polke, and Lueg were originally from East Berlin, leaving them with the lingering sense of émigré status in the West but also giving them insider knowledge of the detrimental, demoralizing effects created by Germany's two opposing political forces. While they embraced the freedoms that West Berlin provided, they were highly critical of the rampant capitalism promoted there. In response, Richter, Polke, and Lueg began replicating imagery from popular culture in line with Pop Art ideas, reproducing media imagery with a subversive, satirical edge as a critique of capitalist bourgeois culture. These three hosted several exhibitions in various nondescript locations in West Berlin where they described the work as “the first exhibition of German Pop Art.”

Photos and text by Josie Ford.