Gerhard Richter
256 Farben (256 Colors), 1974/1984

Artwork Info

Artwork title
256 Farben (256 Colors)
Artist name
Gerhard Richter
Date created
oil on linen
87 3/4 in. × 163 1/4 in. (222.89 cm × 414.66 cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
© Gerhard Richter
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 6 as part of German Art After 1960

Audio Stories

Using math to generate color

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SFX: Music, possibly electronic, but subtle and shifting. Even and deliberate, like the piece, but evocative of myriad worlds– natural, industrial, liminal, galactic.  



This might look familiar to you. It’s like an oversized version of a paint sampler you’d get at a hardware store. That’s what inspired Gerhard Richter to make it, in part. 



He’s always trying to find new methods of making pictures.  



That’s curator, Rachel Jans. 



He was very interested in how things we find in our everyday world can help generate art. He had been working in black and white in his photo paintings and this was a way to systematically explore how to incorporate color in painting.  



To do it, he developed a mathematical system. See if you can follow me here. First, he mixed the three primary colors to make a dozen new hues. He added white and black to those colors, to create a variety of shades and tones – 180 different colors in all. Then he assigned a number to each of the colors. Finally, he drew those numbers randomly from a box, and applied those colors to the grid in front of you. There are 256 rectangles in the grid, so some of the colors repeat. 



He’s working through ideas of chance, of finding ways to produce images generated from a source outside of oneself.  

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