GERHARD RICHTER TEACHERS’ PACK
ABOUT THIS RESOURCE Recognised as one of the world’s most significant living artists, Gerhard Richter consistently identifies himself as a painter. Since the 1960s, Richter has committed himself to a diverse approach to painting, rejecting what he saw as an artificial consistency of ‘style’, allowing him to move seamlessly between figuration and abstraction. Currently living and working in Cologne, his work can be found in major museum collections around the world, and has recently exhibited at Tate Modern, London; The Louvre, Paris; and Fondation Beyeler, Basel. The aim of this resource is to aid teachers and educators using the ARTIST ROOMS: Gerhard Richter exhibition at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, and to provide a way to look at, learn from, and engage with the various themes and artworks included in the exhibition. The resource focuses on specific works and suggests activity ideas to engage young people with contemporary art. Elements of this pack can support your visit to the exhibition, and can also be adapted for use in the classroom before or after your visit. Please refer to page 24 for guidance on how to book a visit.
CONTENTS WHAT IS ARTIST ROOMS? 5 GERHARD RICHTER 6 RICHTER AND WORLD WAR II
PLYMOUTH IN WORLD WAR II
‘A PLAN FOR PLYMOUTH’ 9 WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION 11 1. BLUR 12 2. GREY 14 3. ABSTRACT 16 4. PORTRAITS 18 IDEAS FOR ACTIVITIES 21 WHAT CAN WE DO FOR YOU?
HOW TO BOOK A VISIT
FURTHER RESOURCES 25 GLOSSARY 26
WHAT IS ARTIST ROOMS? ARTIST ROOMS is an inspirational collection of modern and contemporary art acquired for the nation by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate through the generosity of Anthony dâ€™Offay. The collection was acquired with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Scottish and British Governments. ARTIST ROOMS On Tour enables this collection to reach and inspire new audiences across the country, particularly young people. ARTIST ROOMS On Tour is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Art Fund, making available the ARTIST ROOMS collection to galleries throughout the UK.
GERHARD RICHTER Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden, which after World War II became part of the German Democratic Republic. He left East Germany shortly before the Berlin Wall was built in 1962 and settled in Düsseldorf. He has since become one of the world’s most successful and influential painters.
During the 1960s and into the 1970s Richter’s work was primarily figurative but the realist tendency is always balanced by the care he takes to distance it from naturalism, by using photographs. He paints his images in shades of grey, or in black and white, and blurs and simplifies them by brushing over the wet paint. This arbitrary intervention also disassociates the work from the personal responses of the artist and makes it seem more abstract. In portraits such as Brigid Polk and Gilbert, George, there is a similar blurring effect. In 48 Portraits realism is tempered by the black and white photo reproduction source from an encyclopaedia which makes these images seem both primitive and iconic, and perhaps closer to propaganda than portraiture.
In the mid-1960s Düsseldorf was one of the most stimulating places for an artist to be. The arts clashed with the rapidly growing economy. The Fluxus movement, including Joseph Beuys, was staging its events. Richter had his first one-man show at Alfred Schmela’s gallery in 1964 where he exhibited several of his early paintings based on photographs. The future gallery owner Konrad Fischer together with Richter and others created the short-lived movement Capitalist Realism. However, although Richter felt that the art world needed to be shaken up Just as Richter has always maintained that in portraiture he prefers to paint from at this time, he never considered giving photographs as a means of keeping his up painting. personal reactions out of the picture, when dealing with an abstract situation Richter began his ongoing investigation Richter always maintains a connection into the process of painting during the 1960s and, as can be seen from his book with the world of reality outside the picture. His coloured mirrors draw in the entitled The Daily Practice of Painting outside world, although their dark colours (1992), it has sustained him ever since. also present a world of shadows. His work generally demands a long period of gestation. The most flamboyantseeming abstract marks are precisely Since the 1970s Richter has made applied. There always has to be a good many purely abstract paintings which reason for what and how he paints. concentrate on the often dramatic reality He identified three broad areas of activity in painting: figurative, constructive and abstract. But the categories overlap and the artist may also use early works as a reservoir of ideas to be developed later.
of colour, brush stroke and texture, but these can often reveal contrary existences beneath the final surface. The works in the ARTIST ROOMS collection covers all aspects of the artist’s complex practice.
RICHTER AND WORLD WAR II Like most boys of his age, Richter was obliged to join the Pimpfen in 1942, an organisation for children that prepared them for the Hitler Youth. Fortunately, he was just a little too young to have been conscripted to the army himself during the last year of the war. Despite having moved from Dresden to the countryside, Richter’s experience of the war was nonetheless intense. His family did not escape personal loss, with his two uncles, Rudi and Alfred, both being killed in active service. “It was sad when my mother’s brothers fell in battle. First one, then the other. I’ll never forget how the women screamed.” His aunt also encountered a regrettable end to her life: suffering from mental health problems, as a result of the eugenics policies of the Third Reich she starved to death in a psychiatric clinic. While spared much of the direct bombing to which nearby Dresden was exposed, the war was very much present in the countryside. Richter remembers: “The retreating German soldiers, the convoys, the low-flying Russian planes shooting at refugees, the trenches, the weapons lying around everywhere, artillery, broken down cars. Then the invasions of the Russians […] the ransacking, rapes, a huge camp where us kids sometimes got barley soup”
Richter was fascinated by the military, commenting: “When the soldiers came through the village, I went up to them and wanted to join them.” Although he was young, he understood the significance of the war, and in February 1945, recalls the virtual obliteration of Dresden: “In the night, everyone came out into the street in this village 100 kilometres away. Dresden was being bombed, ‘Now, at this moment!” The end of World War II in many ways coincided with Richter’s transition from childhood to adolescence, and, now under Soviet control following the Potsdam Agreement, it was to be a very different Germany to the one he had been born into. While the years immediately following the end of World War II were in many ways difficult, Richter also has fond memories of this time, not least because he found he had access to books that had previously been forbidden under Nazi control.
PLYMOUTH IN WORLD WAR II
Schools were hit, shops were hit, houses were hit.
A simple wooden sign with the word Resurgam (Latin for I shall rise again) was nailed to the shattered St Andrew’s Church door, indicating a positive spirit in the city despite the bombings. The raids also targeted Devonport Dockyard, power stations, water supplies, shopping areas, and military bases. In total, there were 4,448 casualties in Plymouth. This figure would have been much higher had many families not been evacuated for their safety.
© Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)
The most ferocious bombing took place in 1941, where five raids reduced the city to rubble. It is difficult to understand the devastation today - Bedford Street, Union Street, Old Town Street, Cornwall Street, and George Street were either totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Buildings such as the Guildhall, St Andrew’s Church, the Post Office, the Pier, the Library and Charles Church were all destroyed.
© Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)
During World War II, Plymouth was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Britain. The first bombs fell in July 1940 in a residential area of the city - then known as Swilly, now known as North Prospect. Three bombs were dropped, destroying eight houses, and killing three people. The first of these casualties was Blanch Ellnor, aged 33.
‘A PLAN FOR PLYMOUTH’ ‘A Plan For Plymouth’ was a report prepared for the City Council by James Paton-Watson, City Engineer and Surveyor, and Patrick Abercrombie, Consultant Architect, published in 1943. It detailed the proposed changes to the city centre and outlying neighbourhoods of Plymouth, written while the city was still in ruins.
Undoubtedly the plan lead to a bold and ambitious reconstruction programme, resulting in a complete redesign and construction of the city. It has lead, despite some compromises, to the city being the most complete post-war city scheme in Britain, including some of the most important buildings from this period outside of London.
Plymouth took a brave step in commisioning some of the leading architects of the day to rebuild the city, leaving behind a legacy of modernist design and optimism. Resurgam.
© Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)
© Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)
It differs to the scheme of rebuilding and restoration of Dresden, where the decision was made to return the city to its pre-war appearance.
WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION This section focuses on four of Richterâ€™s works from the ARTIST ROOMS collection included in the exhibition, and quotes from the artist that relate to key areas of his work. These works can be explored further during a visit to the exhibition with your class or group. For activity ideas for the classroom or during your visit, please refer to page 21.
Gilbert, George 1975 Oil paint on 2 canvases 68.4 x 63.1 cm ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The dâ€™Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
“I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. I blur things so that they do not look artistic or craftsmanlike but technological, smooth and perfect. I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information” - Notes, 1964-65
Gilbert and George are two artists based in London, who work together as an artistic duo. They became known in the late 1960s as ‘living sculptures’, dressing in similar tweed suits and doing everything together. Life and art were inseparable. George Passmore was born in Plymouth in 1942, and was later evacuated to Totnes during WWII. Around the age of 15, he took evening classes at Dartington Adult Education Centre and won a full-time scholarship to Dartington College of Art. He later went on to study at the Oxford School of Art, before studying at Saint Martin’s School of Art, London, where he met Gilbert Proesch on 25 September 1967. In 1975, on the occasion of a show in Düsseldorf, they commissioned Richter to make a portrait of them. Richter made eight paintings in all, including Gilbert, George, using superimposed photographs of the duo in order to suggest their inseparable identity. Gilbert and George won the Turner Prize in 1986, represented the UK at the Venice Biennale in 2005, and were awarded Honorary Doctorates of Art by Plymouth University in 2013.
Mirror Painting (Grey, 735-2) 1991 Pigment on glass 280 x 165 cm ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The dâ€™Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
“To me, grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape. But grey, like formlessness and the rest, can only be as real as an idea, and so all I can do is create a colour nuance that means grey but is not it. The painting is then a mixture of grey as a fiction and grey as a visible, designated area of colour” - From a letter to Edy de Wilde, 1975
Richter began to use glass in his work in 1967, when he made 4 Panes of Glass. In that work, each pane was framed and fixed to a stand, so that one could look through them individually. It had a strong cerebral content, in keeping with the contemporary Conceptual Art movement, but it also had a certain dead-pan humour. What are paintings, after all, it seemed to say, but windows on the world? 11 Panes, made almost forty years later, is much less conceptual. By stacking them up, one after another, Richter is able to play with glass’s ability, both to be looked through, and to reflect. Because there are multiple panes, the transparency is incrementally affected by the reflectivity of the glass. The blurring effect is similar to that found in Richter’s photo-paintings. Mirror Painting (Grey, 735-2) also plays with the idea of reflection, as the work changes from venue to venue, reflecting the viewer and architecture particular to that venue. In this sense, the work changes each time it is viewed - each individual experience of the work will be different wherever it is displayed.
Abstract Painting (809-3) 1994 Oil paint on canvas 230 x 204 cm ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The dâ€™Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
â€œOne has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically, painting is total idiocyâ€? - Notes, 1973
Richterâ€™s lusciously coloured, abstract paintings appear to be in the tradition of both American Abstract Expressionism and German expressionist painting. However, the artist undermines the heroic and emotive tendencies of these styles by painting in a detached and mechanical manner. From the mid-1980s, Richter began to use a home-made squeegee to rub and scrape the paint that he applied in large bands across his canvases. This spread the paint over the surface and integrated the various colours with one another. In the 1990s the artist began to run his squeegee up and down the canvas to produce vertical marks. Abstract Painting (809-3) is typical of these paintings. One effect of the use of a squeegee was to create a blurring of one area into another - similar to the blurring in his earlier photo-paintings - so that one has the feeling of looking at an out of focus image, that lies tantalisingly beyond decipherment.
48 Portraits 1971-98 48 photographs, black and white, on paper between Perspex and aluminium board 68.9 cm x 53.9 cm x 2.8 cm (each) ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The dâ€™Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
...and the intimidating encyclopedia portraits of various male role models. They all pertain to the image of the lost father. “Yes, absolutely, and I have even less difficulty admitting to it since it’s the experience of an entire generation, the post-war generation, or even two generations who lost their fathers for all sorts of reasons - some literally, who had fallen in the war; and then there were the others, the broken, the humiliated, the ones that returned physically or mentally damaged; and then those fathers that were actually guilty of crimes. Those three types of fathers you don’t want to have. Every child wants a father to be proud of” - Interview with Babette Richter, 2002
This is one of four photographic sets of 48 Portraits that Richter made in 1998. It is based on the paintings of the same title that he made for the German Pavilion in the 1972 Venice Biennale. Richter had long had the idea of painting a series of famous men; being nominated to represent Germany and show in the neo-classical building in Venice gave him the opportunity he needed. Richter based his painting on the black and white photographic images of famous men of letters, philosophers and scientists that he found in various encyclopaedia and dictionaries. Richter avoided artists, because he did not wish to set up a canon of his artistic forefathers. He has simplified the backgrounds and, to some extent, the figures, so that they have as much formal similarity as possible. From the quote above, we can also understand how this work relates to Richter’s sense of loss for his father, and to his experiences of World War II.
IDEAS FOR ACTIVITIES These activities are provided as examples of work that can be undertaken in the classroom before, during or after your visit to ARTIST ROOMS: Gerhard Richter. All can be adapted to your specific needs.
SMEAR TACTICS Look at Richter’s Abstract Painting (809-3) and Abstract Painting (Grey) (880-3). Both are painted with oil paint - the first on canvas, the second on aluminium. The artist has utilised a large squeegee to drag and scrape the paint across his surfaces, creating a variety of colour, tone and surface over the whole support. Why has Richter chosen to work like this? Can your pupils think of any reasons for removing an element of ‘control’ from an artist’s work? Back at school, ask your pupils to make abstract paintings without using brushes. They could use almost anything palette knives, pieces of cardboard, CDs - that will allow the paint to be dragged across a surface. Working weton-wet will give very different results to working over dried paint - try both techniques. How does the work compare to their usual paintings? How might they make the painting differently next time?
MIRROR MIRROR Of his early 1990s grey mirror series, Richter said: “It’s about glass again. This time the glass doesn’t show the picture behind but it repeats - mirrors - what is in front of it. And in the case of the coloured mirrors, the result was a kind of cross between a monochrome painting and a mirror, a Neither/ Nor - which is what I like about it” Thinking about Mirror Painting (Grey) (735-2), talk to your class about the idea of this work as a vanitas painting - art meant to remind the viewer of the transience of the physical world, and ultimately the meaninglessness of earthly life. How does a painted mirror remind us that existence is fleeting? Explore Richter’s other paintings that relate to this theme back in the classroom - his Skull and Candle series. How do these differ from historic vanitas paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists in the 16th and 17th centuries? 22
THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC Music is very important to Richter, who often titles his work with names of composers he admires, such as John Cage, Arvo Pärt, and Steve Reich. Try listening to works by these composers while working in your art room. Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians are all good starting points. For this exhibition, we have asked students from both Plymouth College of Art and Plymouth University to create audio based on Richter’s work. Some are spoken, while others are music-based. When visiting the exhibition, why not try to listen to these recordings whilst looking at the paintings? Please head here for a playlist. Does listening to music while looking at art works change your view of them in any way? Does it slow you down in the gallery? Do you look more?
IT’S ALL A BLUR Richter is well known for using a technique of blurring his paintings based on photographs, such as Brigid Polk (305). Brigid Polk was an artist and close associate of Andy Warhol. He states that “Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information” - a way of reducing the complexity of a painted surface. Using paint, ask your pupils to make a portrait or image of something recognisable. Try black and white paint. When the painting has almost dried (check while you’re working), take a large dry brush and blur the paint. You can also try this using Photoshop on digital photographs - apply ‘Motion Blur’ in varying degrees until your image is almost unrecognisable. What does this approach ‘do’ to their images? Is it always desirable to make accurate transcriptions of objects in art?
WHAT CAN WE DO YOU FOR YOU? We are able to offer schools various options when visiting the exhibition. Visits can be arranged for anywhere between one class to an entire school. In many cases, a member of staff can be present to facilitate your visit. We are also very happy for you to visit as a self-directed group. The exhibition provides a perfect opportunity for your pupils to experience an internationally significant artist first hand â€“ and will act as a starting point for working in sketchbooks, fact finding, and talking about the themes that surround the exhibition.
HOW TO BOOK A VISIT Booking in advance is essential for visits We want to ensure your group has the best experience possible when visiting, so please remember to contact us first before organising your trip. We are very popular with schools, colleges and other user groups, so our galleries can get very busy from time to time. For enquiries for school visits, contact: email@example.com Please have a range of possible dates available before contacting us, as it may not always be possible to offer you your first choice date. We can book facilitated visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and self-directed visits on Wednesdays and Fridays (subject to availability). Please remember to bring along sketchbooks and pencils for your visit, as wet materials, and also dusty materials will not be permitted in the exhibition galleries. If you have any questions regarding materials, please contact us using the email above.
FURTHER RESOURCES Many of our previous Teacherâ€™s Packs are available as PDF downloads from our website: ISSUU For more information on the ARTIST ROOMS collection, please visit: ARTIST ROOMS
GLOSSARY BERLIN WALL The Berlin Wall was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic, the wall completely cut off West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany. JOSEPH BEUYS Beuys was a German artist often associated with the Fluxus movement. His work is grounded in concepts of humanism and social philosophy. He is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century. CAPITALIST REALISM The phrase ‘Capitalist Realism’ was first used in the title of the 1963 exhibition Demonstration for Capitalist Realism which explored depictions of Germany’s growing consumer culture and media-saturated society, in part influenced by American Pop Art. KONRAD FISCHER Fischer was an artist and later a gallery owner, who organised influential early exhibitions for a number of leading artists at his Düsseldorf gallery and beyond. FLUXUS Fluxus’ name in taken from the Latin for ‘flowing’ and ‘fluid’, and is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media, such as performance, noise music, and visual art. GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC The GDR was a state within the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. From 1949 to 1990, it administered the region of Germany which was occupied by Soviet forces at the end of WWII. HITLER YOUTH The Hitler Youth was the youth organisation of the Nazi Party in Germany. By 1940, the organisation had 8 million members - virtually every young male in Germany was connected to the Hitler Youth. Only between 10-20% avoided conscription. 26
GLOSSARY PIMPFEN The Pimpfen were the youngest subsection of the Hitler Youth, with boys between the age of 6 and 10 serving their apprenticeship. They would be taught to be loyal to Hitler, and would ultimately join the full organisation. Being a member of the Hitler Youth was compulsory from 1939 onwards. POTSDAM AGREEMENT The Potsdam Agreement was the agreement between three of the Allies of WWII - the UK, USA, and the USSR, for the military occupation and reconstruction of Germany, and its demilitarisation, reparations and prosecution of war criminals. ALFRED SCHMELA Schmela was an artist and gallery owner of Galerie Schmela in D端sseldorf. He was a promoter of avant-garde art, and an early supporter of Joseph Beuys. He gave Richter his first one-man exhibition in 1964.