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in my Institute 2005 to my considerable surprise I was asked to be the director of the Venice Biennale I was surprised because a native-born American has never been asked before I tried to think about what kinds of exhibitions should be made around the Biennale what kind of exhibition I should make and in the mix of that thought about both I'm the first American to do this there will be a lot of thoughts about the Americanist of whatever I do and if I were to pick an American artist that I was proud of and that I thought represented positive things who would that artist be not a single person to represent everybody because that's impossible but somebody would be a touchdown although there's no I meant that as a painter Pollock had profound influence and also beyond painting he is the father of installation art and performance in some ways do or that Andy war has profound its was the person that seemed to me who had really the most was John Cage cage was a cosmopolitan man he worked in multiple mediums and he had attitudes that influenced art in every domain cages and artists Richter first encountered in the early 1960s while a student at this with our Academy in the context of a fluxes festival that was convened more or less by Joseph Boyce far and away the most compelling of anybody was Cage who if I recall performed a piece where he wrote with the microphone attached to the pen so the sound of the pen moving on the surface of the paper was what you heard cage it seems to me was was a reference for Richter of a kind of avant-garde practice that he himself didn't follow but that he respected and that he could learn from some years later a friend of Gerhardt's who was also friend of Jones took John to see an exhibition of the Hertz work and what was on display included one of the very large gray paintings that look like their finger painted almost with lots of non-directional lines and squiggles and so on and took a wonderful picture of John standing with his sort of beatific smile in front of one of Richter's paintings so although Richter and cage didn't ever meet in a sense Richter saw him on stage but never encountered him cage encountered Richter's work but never met him although they never meet met there was this kind of charged current going back and forth something else has been said which is I did not know until just recently was that he was also thinking when painting about the Israeli bombardment of Beirut during the most recent wars between Israel and Lebanon and that puts a whole different cast on what those pictures might be when I wrote the book I used analogies that were essentially landscape analogies for describing this but that was not because I think in any way these are landscape pictures it's because the natural environment is the only source that occurred to me then anyway that would provide the metaphors to describe particular textures in particular colors and particular ways in which the surfaces those paintings move but if you put them all together if there is in the background of a lot of his abstractions a response to nature but not the desire to represent it in any romantic or naturalist way if there is in the back of his thinking a response to cage and to the idea of a composition which comes about without normal kinds of intentionality and that respects accident chance the things that happen in the process of doing something such that in making these paintings with their paints and paints and paints and then chooses to stop and if in the background the harshness of some of these paintings the the surfaces that are that are scored the intensity color also suggests violence at some level and that violence correlating to the news of the fighting in Lebanon if all of those things sort of come together then I think you have a relatively good idea if you will of how an artist of Richter's caliber is never influenced by anything but feeds on everything uses everything a friend of mine once said that a genius is somebody who rather like a really good engine burns cleaned there's no residue and and and Richter's case I think that's actually true he uses everything and there is no residue and and in this case what no residue means is there is ultimately no single referent there's no single thing that ties the immediacy of the painting back to something that is not as immediate as the painting so it may help to think about these points of reference but the painting is not about them never was and where the painting will take you is not confined to those references either because the kinds of thoughts that occur the kind of phenomenological experiences that occur and the subject matters the moods that the tensions are way beyond any particular subject matter if you think about it Richter is a very methodical painter and he's developed his method gradually but he's very consistent in his application of it a lot like a solo and he's consistent in his application but precisely in order to create results that are not repetitive he starts in the same place plus or minus a particular ingredient or variable he has made many series of paintings by this time he's made many paintings by the process of application scraping back or a ratio of paint he's done lots and lots of things but each one of them has a particular Tanner particular scale and so on now the form method he's used for the Caged pains is a format he's used before he's done for and he's done more actually in some cases but the particular number of these paintings is to my knowledge unique at this format and with this surface and so on and for example of the Bach paintings to which these were juxtaposed when the abstract show was done in Cologne and it was very very interesting to see this contrast because the Bach paintings are comparatively speaking suave and atmospheric whereas these are gritty and they crackle and they do actually have the sort of visual equivalent of the sound that the cage was always after which was the sound of the prepared for me and it was kind of percussive audio texture rather than audio atmosphere the cage paintings are also intact as which is not true of many of his series increasingly he's able to place bodies of work in their entirety but this has only happened within recent years and many of his series have to be reconstituted in bits and pieces I frankly I think also the cage paintings even with with the Beirut Association it has a kind of lift to it I mean some of the greens are strange the the Reds and cranes can be very very harsh but there is a kind of openness to those paintings the surfaces are also taken I mean the words betray me in a way but I anyway when I walked into that room for the first time felt a kind of lift from them and I think Richter is after a kind of exultation in paintings in general has been looking for that but has always denied himself the easy ways to it he didn't want to be Moscow he wanted to be Newman & Newman as a painter of transcendence whose paintings are oddly enough rather clunky along with them and unforgiving and Richter's paintings are never clunky but they're quite often unforgiving so it's as if he's he's permitting self only rarely to sort of take off with paintings but when he does he really flies and I think in this group and that's actually what happens Richter's technical innovations in this area are really remarkable and they're the extension of a perception made very early on during this career and it's a perception actually almost any painter who's ever picked up a palette knife makes that when you scrape a painting to remove a passage that you don't like or you scrape paint off your palette and then wipe it off it makes the skin where all the colors mix and if the colors are relatively fresh it gets a kind of wonderful optical jump to it because of these accidental collisions of different tones and textures Rosalind Krauss the American art historian who sees everything from a very narrow American perspective degree art historically deterministic perspective explained all of this in terms of Jasper John's device circle which is a painting where John's makes uses a ruler to go around in a circle and spread and smear paint now Jasper's a great great great painter but he didn't invent this and he certainly didn't invent it for Richter Gauss's lack of knowledge of our richter and her attempt to simply line him up with american painting in the canonical mode is an indication of how much the problem Richter has been artists to generate in this country no I mean the source of that is one that any artist will do that and the other source is actually a painting coldly bespeak biasing my polka in which there is this pop image of a couple and then there are these smears of paint on the side and that single use of spirit paint in this manner antedates Richter's own use of it Richter and Polk had the kind of relationship to Johnson Rauschenberg had I mean they they traded things back and forth they took from each other freely they were intimately connected with each other's work for a very long time in any case Richter when he began to develop his work and to first of all think about how to blur the image that was an image originally favored fan brushes and big house painting brushes and he would drag it across the fresh paint in order to make the image spread and smear and so on to use a palette knife as a more abrupt thing because actually removes paint at least in the first application and so it's much more like flying taking the skin of the painting but as he developed the abstract work it became his dominant mode it was his way of creating large spaces with enormous amounts of activity and frankly when the enormous a lot of paint because if you look at paintings like the group that are in in st. Louis January December November or if you look at any number of paintings before that you'll see our layer upon layer upon layer of very wet very rich oil paint and as the paint is dragged each time some of it sticks and some of it doesn't and as its dragged again there Skip's where there's no point of contact for the next layer of paint to go on so if you look at those paintings what you're seeing is number one the juxtaposition of colors becomes one schmear and what you look at again the second time or perceived is that every place where you actually see from the top surface down into a crevice you're also getting the mixes of colors that are down there it's almost like they're in a canyon and you can see this stuff firing off layer by layer by layer all the way up to the surface and it's an extraordinarily efficient way to create an incredible amount of accidental imagery or accidental optical incident and as with caged caves used to say you know the thing about accidents is you do choose the ones you want to keep it's not like there's no intention whatsoever the process of arriving of the result is a process you set in motion almost blindly the part that's not blind is the decision once you've made something to keep it or not and in Richter's case that's what it's all about and the numbers of layers of paint have to do less with the desire to load it up and make some busy physical thing than dissatisfaction with everything that was there previously so he keeps putting it on until something happens that he can then hold on to the one other I think crucial part of this has to do with his relation to painting of the 1940s 50s and early 60s that we call Abstract Expressionists or FML the general tendency at that time was number one to use brushes and number two to associate the brush mark with some kind of direct transmission to the artists hand of an emotional content or a structural intention or what have you and then to couple that or link all of that with the kind of signature mark that thing that only that hand would do and so when we look at a de Kooning or we look at Pollock dripping you know the old girls are kind of sure ship come in you know that is that is Pollux mark that's de Kooning's mark or that's fillets mark or that is schumacher's mark or whatever the case might be all of that has to do with the brush or what the secateurs was Mexican painter who was against this kind of art also said the stick with hairs on it what the record has done basically is to reintroduce the gesture without gestural ISM to use a tool that makes it impossible to make a signature mark unless of course you think a broad sweep of you know sort of moving lava like paint as a mark so he's able to surface the work to create movement within the work without for the most part allowing the hand itself to be the protagonist much less the artist whose hand that is the only exceptions to this would be those paintings where he then takes the end of the brush and scores things and makes you know marks within it often I think just to expose the hidden layers at a certain point of the painting there you begin to get a little bit the idea of gesture ISM as it was practiced before but by and large it's this other thing it's this it's this process it's this willingness to let go of certain kinds of control in order that other things