Gerhard Richter craze



Since the start of 2012, Gerhard Richter has signed four auction results above $15 million! Spearhead of Contemporary German painting, Richter has become the most expensive living artist of our time.Born in 1932 in Dresden, the German artist Gerhard Richter lives and works in Cologne. Since the early 1960s, Richter has produced surprising works using new techniques and exploiting new themes, ranging from photo-realism to abstraction. His career took off when he represented Germany at the 36th Venice Biennale (1972) with 48 portraits based on a series of photographs of famous men.

Painting as a medium of photography
It was an ironic reflection on the status of painting in the era of photography that led Gerhard RICHTER and his friend, the artist Sigmar POLKE, in 1963 in Düsseldorf to launch Capitalist Realism transforming photographs into pictorial objects. As of 1962, Gerhard Richter reproduced on canvas photos of landscapes, still lifes –like his famous Kerze / candles– or intimate scenes such as the work Renate und Marianne (1964) representing his first wife Emma and her sister Renate. The documentary sources of his works, press photographs, private works and collected amateur works were brought together and archived in his Atlas, exhibited for the first time in 1972.
The reproduction of what is already a reproduction was an idea previously cultivated by Pop Art. Tongue in cheek, Richter called himself the representative of German Pop Art. He only kept one medium though – photography, making paintings that look like fuzzy photographs.
This special treatment of the image was a constant influence on and source of inspiration for his contemporaries. Highly sought-after, these works started generating 7-figure results in the 1990s: his Renate und Marianne fetched £660,000 (over $1m) at Sotheby’s London in 1998.
Apart from his realist paintings based on photographs, his protean work includes colorful gestural abstractions such as his famous Asbtraktes bild, abstract paintings that he invariably named by their creation date. Taking explosions of colours and sparkling lights to extremes, mastering the famous « scraping » technique, the painter invites the viewer to immerse themselves in matter. His best auction result was also generated by a work from this series, Abstaktes Bild (798-3),, which fetched $19.4m at Christie’s New York on 8 May 2012.

2011-2012: record after record…
Ranked 8th in the world’s best-selling artists in 2011 with a total auction revenue of $175m during the year (after ZHANG Daqian, QI Baishi, Andy WARHOL, Pablo PICASSO, XU Beihong, WU Guanzhong, FU Baoshi) Gerhard Richter was, at the time, the only living artist in the Top 10 artists ranked by sales revenue, ahead of Francis BACON and LI Keran.
Appearing to have reached the peak of his career and of his price evolution, the artist has since the autumn of 2011 been enjoying a travelling retrospective entitled Panorama (Tate Modern London, 6 October 2011 to 8 January 2012; Staatliche Museen Berlin, 12 February to 13 May 2012; Centre Pompidou Paris, 6 June to 24 September 2012) honouring an artistic career spanning five decades. These prestigious events have not only spread Richter’s notoriety across Europe, but also substantially stimulated his auction prices, generating new records in 2012. At the end of the summer 2012, sales of his works had already generated more than $157 m and we suspect that his work will generate a lot more in the 2012 autumn-winter sales. In any case, he already looks well on his way to beating his 2011 revenue total.

The dramatic rise in Richter’s prices has had a leverage effect on other German artists with some collectors turning towards younger and cheaper German artists. Thus, the German Albert OEHLEN signed two auction records in 2012 (including an all-time record of $600,000 for Untitled at Sotheby’s New York on 10 May) for abstractions just as impressive as those of Richter. On 15 February 2012, A.R. PENCK, whose real name is Ralf Winkler, handsomely doubled the estimated range for his Methode, Fertigzuwerden, generating a new record of £270,000 ($424,000, Sotheby’s London). Likewise, Thomas SCHÜTTE (born 1954), who was also a student of Gerhard Richter in the 1970s, scored a result of $800,000, his fourth best-ever auction result, with his sculpture Untitled (Untitled Enemies) on 10 May at Phillips de Pury & Company.