On 12 March, museums across New York shut their doors indefinitely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This happened just four days after the Met Breuer opened ‘Gerhard Richter: Painting After All,’ the largest US exhibition of the German artist's work in almost two decades.
While necessary to protect public health, the closure of this exhibition was still a tragedy, according to longtime Met docent Page Knox. “The exhibition had been in the works for over five years.” Page explained. "And most likely is the last exhibition that will take place within Gerhard Richter’s lifetime.”
Whether the exhibition will be extended long enough for visitors to see it in person, no one can say. But Cultivist members received the next best thing: a live-streamed tour of the show’s highlights, led by Page. We learned that the following four works are linchpins of the show, together providing a sense of why Richter is one of the most important artists of the past 50 years.
11 PANES (2004)
The first work one encounters in the show, right outside the elevator, is the installation ’11 Panes.’ This is a subtle but mesmerizing installation of 11 panes of glass stacked together and displayed upright. Each of the panes, on its own, would be totally transparent, but stacked together they produce a murky sort of mirror.
"This speaks to me very much about the issues that Richter is interested in,” Page explained on the tour. "What do you want a work of art to do? What do you want a painting to do? Do you want a painting to be a window onto the world that you look through? Or do you want a painting to reflect back upon you? To speak to you personally in a way that is very much an interior investigation?”
Page explained that these two, contrasting ideas of painting as a “window” or a “mirror” are key components of Richter’s work, which is why this little-known installation was placed right at the entrance to the exhibition.
To the right of ’11 Panes' is a small, blurry canvas that appears, on first glance, to be an abstract painting. A closer look however reveals its true subject: the plane hitting the south tower on September 11.
This image was produced in Richter’s signature style that blends photography and painting. First, Richter faithfully copies a photograph onto the canvas in the manner of the photorealists. Then, using squeegees and other tools, he strategically smears the painting until it becomes either totally unrecognizable or, as in this case, only partially obscured.
“He is speaking about memory,” Page explained. “He is speaking about trauma. How does our mind allow us to move forward? It allows us to remember but it also allows us to forget.”
FAMILY AT THE SEASIDE (1964)
The second room is devoted to Richter’s “photo paintings,” in which he reproduced photos onto the canvas but only subtly blurred them, leaving the core image intact.
By blurring the image, Richter creates an uncanny sense of distance, revealing the fact that these works are, in Page’s words, “an illusion of an illusion.” Photographs too, Richter suggests, are constructions, not windows onto reality.
One of the more fascinating works in this series is ‘Family at the Seaside’ (1964). At first, this seems like an idyllic black and white scene of a happy family at the beach. It in fact depicts Richter’s wife’s family spending a day at the beach during the 1940s. However, behind this image lurks a dark truth. The smiling father in this image—Richter’s father-in-law—was a prominent member of the SS. A prominent doctor, he was guilty of horrendous experiments with euthanasia during the war.
‘Family at the Seaside’ represented just one of many attempts by Richter to come to terms, artistically, with the Holocaust.
For Richter, the traumatic memory of this tragedy was something that was always present in contemporary German life and yet rarely addressed. Through consumerism and other strategies of distraction, Germans repeatedly attempt to disavow this painful knowledge.
Like all traumas, the Holocaust is too painful to represent directly. That is why the four paintings that comprise the ‘Birkenau’ series are blurred to the point of total abstraction. Without reading the captions, one would not know that the paintings were created from photographs taken at the Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. Indecipherable, these painful images nevertheless comprise the architecture of the paintings.
The ‘Birkenau’ series had never before been displayed in an American museum and their inclusion in this exhibition was much discussed in the media. The works are absolutely essential to Richter's oeuvre, as they crystallize key themes he has investigated over the past sixty years.
Every year Cultivist hosts a pop-up exhibition during Frieze week serving as a platform for art and emerging talent. This year’s exhibition event, titled BAZAAR, takes inspiration from the traditional souk, or open marketplace. For the first time ever, the exhibition is open for public hours on the afternoon following its premier. Curators Joey Lico and Mac Premo have invited eight artists to transform the gallery space into a treasure-filled wonder of activity and exchange. Participating artists include Robin Frohardt, Divya Gagdangi, Noah Klersfeld, Noah Lyon, Mac Premo, Aurora Robson, Rirktrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu. BAZAAR is presented in partnership with MATCHESFASHION.COM, a long-term partner of Cultivist and LIFEWTR, whose continuous support for emerging artists helps us to cultivate the next generation of talent.
The Cultivist's “Artist Edition” series allows new and renewing members to receive limited edition works of art. This quarter, the artist featured in the popular series is Ronny Quevedo, a U.S. based artist whose work touches on different aspects of his identity as an immigrant with roots in Ecuador living and working in America. The print, ‘Wiphala In the Paint,’ interlaces gymnasium diagrams and NBA team logos with a Wiphala pattern, a patchwork emblem used by various native peoples of the Andes. The print is at once playful and reflective, and is sure to spark conversation in homes across the world!
Zona Maco has fast become Latin America’s leading art fair and—as always—the Cultivist was on the ground for this year’s edition. Members enjoyed exclusive access to the fair and were also able to attend the Cultivist’s own programming throughout the city. Cultivist events this week included a private tour of the fantastic Casa Barragán and a lunch event at Condesa DF where members mingled with leading Latin American artists.
This February saw the opening of the first-ever edition of Frieze L.A., a milestone for a city that is fast becoming a flashpoint of the global art world. To mark this occasion, the Cultivist presented a special dinner event that celebrated the collaborative spirit of the L.A. art scene. Five of the city’s most established artists picked a local emerging artist to co-create a curated “tablescape” and dining experience. Over 100 members attended this event.
The Mini Cultivist is a new programming series catered to the very youngest members of the Cultivist community. There are four Mini Cultivist events planned this year, with the first taking place on 9 March. For the first Mini Cultivist activity, a group of children and their parents will partake in a creative project in the London studio of artist Annie Morris, who is known for her sculptural towers meant to resemble three dimensional artist’s palettes.
This year's programme of international art trips promise to be the Cultivist's best yet! Through the course of the year, the team will travel with groups of members to Beirut (21 - 23 March), Marfa (12 - 15 April), Guadalajara (7 - 9 June), New Mexico (12 - 17 September) and Berlin (26 - 29 September). These experience-rich excursions include studio tours with local up-and-coming artists, visits to the top private collections, and access to all manner of hard-to-get to places.
The Cultivist is pleased to announced the Museum Membership, a new membership tier that will make our popular Global Museum Card more accessible than ever before. The Global Museum card grants members free, front-of-line access to our full list of partner museums, which spans six continents and includes most major art museums, form the Met to the Tate. For most, the card grants immediate access to any exhibition; for the rest we can book tickets with just 24 hours notice.
Our New York team just got back from Art Basel Miami Beach, where we hosted a number of exciting events around the fair including a private breakfast at the Bass Museum followed by a tour of the Haas Brothers’ exhibition, in which we were joined by the artists themselves! We hosted our annual Artist Lunch at the Setai, where members mingled with artists such as Genevive Gainard, Beau Dunn, Miya Ando and Derrik Adams.
With the opening of our Shanghai office this November members now have access to ten of the best museums in China, not to mention a full schedule of Cultivist events in Shanghai and Hong Kong. With our Shanghai presence joining our offices in Los Angeles, New York, London and Brussels, our members now have on-the-ground art support around the clock, and around the world.
From the start, it has been the Cultivist's mission to grow their patronage for the arts as the business grows. Three years down the line, the company has given a large amount in donations to their many museum partners and has brought attention to emerging artists through the Artist Edition series. Furthermore, following a successful partnership with Children & the Arts in 2017, the Cultivist has entered a year-long partnership with Artangel, a charitable organisation funded by trusts, foundations, Arts Council England and individual patrons known as “Angels.” Over the past 25 years, Artangel has been at the hear of some of the most ambitious projects of our time, supporting work by Marlene Dumas, Nan Goldin, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans and many others. If you want to learn more about Artangels’ upcoming projects, please visit www.artangel.org.uk.
Image: Maxxi Museum