Prof. Graham Bader begins his talk by noting two significant elements of Gerhard Richter’s 1973 production: first, all but five of his nearly 175 paintings made that year are abstract, an unprecedented development for the artist; second, the lone exceptions to this abstract turn were his Annunciations after Titian, five variations on a 1535 painting by the Venetian master that remain Richter’s only works to feature explicitly religious iconography. These two developments, Bader argues, are of a piece, and together help us to understand the artist’s decades-long exploration of the abstract mark that would emerge in their wake. For in his probing emulation of Titian’s 1535 canvas, Richter came to recognize that it was abstraction—most immediately, the program of generation-through-destitution of his austerely non-compositional Greys of 1973-1975—that provided the most effective means for him to confront his own apparent incapacity in the face of the earlier artist’s accomplishment. In pursuing its argument, the talk examines Richter’s work in light of both the specific symbolic program of the story of the Annunciation and contemporary and historical models of monochrome painting—which together, Bader argues, laid the groundwork for Richter’s pursuit of abstraction after Titian, circa 1973.
Graham Bader is Associate Professor and former Chair of Art History at Rice University in Houston. The author of Hall of Mirrors: Roy Lichtenstein and the Face of Painting in the 1960s (October Books, 2010) and editor of the 2009 October Files volume on Lichtenstein’s work, Bader’s writing on topics across twentieth-century art has appeared in journals including Grey Room, Oxford Art Journal, Art History, and Art Journal, as well as in museum catalogues in both the US and Europe. He also writes frequently for Artforum, where his most recent contribution examined the “Nature and Politics” works of German photographer Thomas Struth. Bader’s current manuscript-in-progress, Poisoned Abstraction: Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Between Revolution and Exile, examines the work of Weimar-era collagist Kurt Schwitters.
Organised by Dr Robin Schuldenfrei (The Courtauld)