Gerhard Richter presents six mammoth abstract paintings from his “Cage” series, all from 2006, and shown for the first time at the 52nd Venice Biennale. The title refers to the conceptual composer John Cage, whose piano works Richter listened to while executing these works. Richter’s own interest in chance and randomness is evocative of the process of the American composer, who relied on tools such as the I Ching in creating his musical arrangements. Formally, the series title could be said to echo the subtle horizontal and vertical bars that extend across the canvases, as well as their dense un-parsability—their caginess.
Though the “Cage” paintings began from images of atomic structures, Richter eventually painted them over, using his signature technique of dragging a squeegee—in this case, a massive one—across the surface of each canvas, rippling and disturbing it, and recording the minutiae of variations of direction and application of force. The resulting paintings, more than nine feet in either direction, bear implications of interference, as if they were trying to communicate some lost message. Cage 4 [pictured], for instance, is largely light gray, shot through with white, but also includes strata of red, as well as flecks of yellow and green, that seem to try to break through the field of gray.
Paired with the paintings are drawings Richter made last summer, which retrace the additive and subtractive method seen in the canvases via graphite and erasers. Though he has made drawings throughout his career, it was only in 2017 that he began to foreground drawing as a medium in his oeuvre. A behemoth of modern painting, Richter continues, like his own canvases, to change—slowly, methodically, integrating the whims of chance and time.
Gerhard Richter, Cage 4, 2006. Oil on canvas, 114 1/4 x 114 1/4 inches. © Gerhard Richter 2020. Courtesy Gagosian.