This issue contains:
>> Interview with Benjamin Buchloh
>> Eight Grey - an introduction
>> Gerhard Richter in the Collection of the Deutsche Bank
>> Installation
>> The Lunch Lectures at Deutsche Guggenheim
>> Richter’s Mirror Metaphors in an Art Historical Context
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>> Karin Sander - wordsearch

Discovering Eight Grey – The Lunch Lectures at Deutsche Guggenheim

Gerhard Richter’s ”Eight Grey” might literally be putting some visitors to the Deutsche Guggenheim off: ”The work is difficult to view at first; it’s basically just eight large panes of grey glass. The size doesn’t change their emptiness at all,” Benjamin Buchloh, the exhibition’s curator, expressed in an interview. Whoever wants to understand Richter’s work is well advised to allow ample time for doing so: since it was founded, the Deutsche Guggenheim has been providing an accompanying program for each exhibition to help facilitate the shown works’ accessibility. This includes the Lunch Lectures, which aim for an inspiring involvement with the subject: in the case of ”Eight Grey,” for instance, one can learn how artists of various eras have addressed the phenomenon of reflection. accompanied the art historian Melanie Franke on this ”lunch break of another kind” and observed how her lecture ”On the Phenomenon of Reflection in the Works of van Eyck, Velázquez, Magritte, and Richter” was received.


As the traffic outside streams continuously past on the wide boulevard Unter den Linden, groups of tourists settle down in the surrounding cafés, and business people pour out onto the street for their lunch break, Melanie Franke is standing in the center of the museum hall of the Deutsche Guggenheim, holding up a reproduction of a surrealist masterpiece for her listeners to see: Rene Magritte’s painting La Reproduction Interdite from 1939 portrays a man gazing into a mirror. There, where the reflection of his face should be in the mirror, however, is the back of his head, turned away from the viewer. "Whoever looks at the painting reproduces what he himself sees,” the artist wrote in a letter to Paul Collinet in 1957. Magritte’s dream scene is passed on from one listener to the next as Melanie Franke explains why she’s showing precisely this painting in Gerhard Richter’s exhibition Eight Grey: it’s not the young man’s gaze that we recognize in the mirror, but merely our own. In a paradoxical way, the mirror keeps its secret, refusing to reflect what we in fact can’t see from behind. Instead, it repeats exactly what we do see, reminding us that we’re not standing in front of a man or a mirror, but a painting.


In the same way that Magritte’s painting underscores the illusionist character of painting, the mirror also appears in his painting as a symbol for the interplay between motif and viewer. And suddenly, some listeners who were previously uninvolved might begin sensing that the ”Lunch Lecture” held by Franke is a situation in which they can play an active role.

A glance at one of the huge grey mirrors that Richter has positioned on the room’s walls suffices to realize that the viewer creates ”his own image” here in which he is simultaneously the motif: even if it seems as though Richter’s monumental ensemble were commanding the room, at the same time it recedes behind every movement, transforming with the changes in daylight and whatever else is happening outside the gallery. Richter had the windows, which were originally concealed, uncovered so that the tilted mirrors could bring the Berlin outside world into the gallery. The clinically cool impression that arises when the fluorescent lights are turned on in the hall gives way, in the absence of artificial illumination, to the twilight atmosphere of a sacred location in whose interior the street and the city are reflected.


Benjamin Buchloh described Eight Grey as ”the reduction of the pictorial object to an experiment that’s solely about perception.” Whoever comes into the Deutsche Guggenheim is aware of both Richter’s reputation as a painter and his technical virtuosity. With his commissioned work, however, Richter has created a piece that might indeed disappoint some people at first glance. It’s not a series of paintings that are being shown here, but rather a monochrome, site-specific work in which the reflected architecture of the outside boulevard allows a multitude of references to German history come to mind. Yet some have found the large-scale mirrors simply empty.


”At first I didn’t even want to go inside, with all that leaden grey,” an older woman said as she took leave of Melanie Franke, entirely pleased with the ”Lunch Lecture.” ”But now I’m really glad that I didn’t turn away.” As do his famous paintings of newspaper photographs from the sixties, his abstractions, landscape paintings, and his portraits, Eight Grey questions what painting, what art in general can be. And this is where the young art historian begins her lecture in the Deutsche Guggenheim: in order to articulate this question, Franke not only refers back to Richter’s previous work, but elucidates examples from different eras of art history that are related to the themes of Eight Grey. The mechanisms of seeing and being seen, which already occupied van Eyck and Velázquez, the shifting relationship between illusion and reality that comes to expression in the painted metaphor of the mirror motif are taken up by Franke in order to open her listeners’ eyes and senses. The reactions of her listeners demonstrate that her lecture changes the perception of Richter’s work – while Franke is speaking, some seem to forget that they came to the Deutsche Guggenheim for lunch this afternoon. It almost seems as though the movements in the room were changing; the gaze remains fixed on a detail that has crystallized in the reflecting grey of Richter’s work. In the midst of superimposed images from the street and the room’s interior, an object appears that the viewer didn’t really notice until now: the mutable reflection of his own figure.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf