Richter Biography | LCIT | SIU

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College of Liberal Arts

Richter Biography

b. 1932, Dresden, Germany  

Gerhard Richter, one of the most important artists to emerge from post–World War  Two Germany, was born February 9, 1932, in Dresden, Germany. He received a classical art education at the Dresden Academy before immigrating to the West German city of Düsseldorf in 1961 where he worked as a photo-laboratory technician and was influenced by the iconoclastic activities of Fluxus and by American Pop Art. From 1961 to 1964, Richter studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Karl Otto Götz.

With fellow students Sigmar Polke and Konrad Fischer-Lueg, Richter instigated the satirical Capitalist Realist style. Each artist created work based on reproductions from print media and other sources; Richter chose to make his images appear blurred.
From that time forward, Richter maintained a belief in the expressive potential of painting while simultaneously maintaining a subversive attitude toward its conventions—or the viewer’s expectations of what those conventions are. Accordingly, he continued to experiment with imagery, creating stylistically varied paintings that range from super-realist landscapes to brilliantly colored abstract canvases. Photographs and the combination of realism and abstraction form the basis of Richter’s strikingly diverse work, regardless of its final form.

Richter’s first solo show was held at the Möbelhaus Berges, Düsseldorf, in 1963. Here the artist introduced his photo-painting style, in which he employed his own photographs of landscapes, portraits, and still lifes as a basis for his paintings. The artist blurred the depicted subjects or objects, deviating from traditional figurative painting in order to distinguish painting from photography. In 1967, Richter won the Junger Westen art prize from the city of Recklinghausen, Germany. It was at this time that the artist began his “Constructive” phase, which included the Color Charts, Inpaintings, Gray Paintings, and Forty-eight Portraits, as well as his work with mirrors. In 1972, Richter’s work was chosen to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale. That same year, he participated in Documenta in Kassel, where he showed again in 1977, 1982, and 1987. The artist gained recognition in the United States in 1973 with a show at the Reinhard Onnasch Gallery in New York. In 1976, his first retrospective took place at the Kunsthalle Bremen, which covered works from 1962 to 1974. Richter had a major exhibition in 1978 at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, entitled Abstract Paintings, which traveled to the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in 1979.

In 1982, Richter was awarded the Arnold Bode Preis at Documenta in Kassel and in 1985 the Oskar Kokoschka Prize in Vienna. In 1988, the artist was given his first North American retrospective, which was co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The exhibition traveled to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Richter has been a professor at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf since 1971. In 1983, the artist moved to Cologne, where he still resides.