Gerhard Richter: Paintings from Private Collections
National Gallery of Scotland Complex, Edinburgh, until Sun 4 Jan
The literature accompanying this show sets the bar high: ‘One of the greatest and most influential European artists of the last 50 years’. Whoever chose those words wasn’t wrong. This first retrospective in the UK for 20 years of Gerhard Richter’s work (and his first ever in Scotland) is truly stunning.
Even a series of paintings completed in the early 60s is steeped in the zeitgeist of Richter’s native Germany, sandwiched between the post-WWII and early Cold War eras. The artist paints a squadron of diving Mustangs in the same dynamic, fetishistic style that he depicts speed-trailed Fiats on another canvas, even though his upbringing in war-torn Dresden must have taught him to dread aeroplanes. Elsewhere, aerial views of modernist structures are slate grey and cold, or painted in such broad strokes that they might well be decimated themselves.
This is all scene setting for Richter’s most effective works: large abstracts onto which thick oil paints have been squeegeed. Most of these aren’t even titled, the striking waves and textures and colours of the paint standing monolithic and subconsciously evocative. Elsewhere, the deceptively classical studies of ‘Candle’ and ‘Skull’, the playful masking of a series of landscapes with washes of colour and the conversion of 11 sheets of stacked sheet glass into a watery mirror force the viewer to reconsider the acts of painting and of viewing.