SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Wednesday, October 9, 2002—A remarkable eight-painting suite of abstractions by Gerhard Richter has been given to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The announcement, made today by SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, comes as the Museum prepares to open the major retrospective exhibition Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, on view Saturday, October 12, 2002, through January 14, 2003. The eight paintings—each named individually Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Picture), 1999, and numbered 858-1 through 858-8 according to the artist’s career-long ordering system—are also on view at the Museum in conjunction with the retrospective, through April 1, 2003. The eight-painting suite has been given as a fractional and promised gift of anonymous donors in honor of the artist.
“We were honored by the opportunity to give the 858 paintings their first U.S. museum presentation and are absolutely delighted today to accept them into our collection,” stated Benezra. “These eight glorious pictures make the important addition of recent abstract paintings to the more than 20 Richter works already in the SFMOMA collection.”
One of the rare groups of Richter abstractions to remain fully intact, the 858 series consists of eight brilliantly colored and formally complex paintings that were among the first works completed by the artist in the summer of 1999. With the exception of the eighth painting, on linen, the 858 pictures were executed on aluminum panels, and all are of a modest scale.
According to Madeleine Grynsztejn, SFMOMA Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, “858 is a particularly lyrical abstract series. It has aptly been described in musical or literary terms, with each painting standing as a ‘chapter’ within an evolving visual narrative. In their conceptual suppleness and complex beauty, the 858 series is among the most intelligent and glowing of Richter’s painting cycles.”
Simultaneous with the presentation of the 858 series at SFMOMA, an extraordinary book of images, poems, essays and music inspired by and specially commissioned for the series, RICHTER 858, has been released internationally. Compelled by these works—and with the artist’s blessing—San Francisco-based writer, editor and record producer David Breskin created RICHTER 858 as both investigation and celebration of this suite of pictures in particular and Richter abstraction in general. The book presents a unique mix of image, music and text—commissioned works by 13 American poets, including Robert Hass, Jorie Graham and Richard Howard; a string-quartet CD by composer and guitarist Bill Frisell; essays by David Hickey and Klaus Kertess; a sampling of Richter’s own writings on painting, process and abstraction over a 40-year period—all illustrated with vivid, large-scale reproductions of the eight paintings, plus 35 details. Published by The Shifting Foundation in association with SFMOMA, the oversized volume (12.5 by 17 inches) is housed in an aluminum slipcase and comes fully protected in its own laminated cardboard box. Distributed nationally by D.A.P. and internationally by Thames and Hudson, the book is available at the SFMOMA MuseumStore and online at www.sfmoma.org for $125.
Born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, Gerhard Richter holds a unique position in 20th- and 21st-century art. Throughout his 40-year artistic career, Richter’s work has displayed a broad array of stylistic, formal and conceptual concerns. His Photo Pictures, begun in 1962, have taken the form of portraits, landscapes, still lifes, seascapes, townscapes, cloud pictures, history paintings, action “shots” and mass media-based imagery. His Abstract Pictures, so-named by the artist in 1976, have been executed in scales ranging from tiny to monumental and have become an increasingly large part of his oeuvre. In the abstract genre, he has also made Color Charts (beginning in 1966), Gray Paintings (beginning in 1970) and Mirror Paintings (beginning in 1991). Meanwhile, throughout his career, Richter has cultivated a subtly romantic and seemingly antimodernist manner in the landscapes and hauntingly beautiful “old master-like” portraits he has intermittently produced, even as he has pushed abstraction to new levels of visual intensity.