Confession: Why I turned my back on Richter

Gerhard Richter, “Betty”, 1988, huile sur toile, 102x72cm, Saint-Louis Art Museum Gerhard Richter 2012
© Gerhard Richter 2012

Going to the Centre Pompidou’s Gerhard Richter exhibition was like a therapy session or some kind of expelling of demons. This sounds a little melodramatic but since I was twenty, hearing the name ‘Gerhard Richter’ has caused dark clouds to gather above my head. It all began during the time when my head was full of thoughts of parties, non-suitable boys and baked beans, in other words when I was a student. In my History of Art seminar I was given Gerhard Richter as the topic for a presentation.

Gerhard Richter is widely recognised as the best living German painter and my History of Art teacher, who was German and widely recognised as one of the best in what she did, was obviously looking forward to someone doing justice to her national treasure.

During this time my life was particularly chaotic. Holding down a part-time job in a late bar and studying isn’t easy, even for organised people, but for the kind of person who prioritised watching the soap ‘Neighbours’ twice a day (the second time a repeat) over going to library, there was no hope.

Everything was left to the last minute and there I was the day before the presentation madly making photocopies. I took my messy piles paper home, spread them all over my bedroom floor and made myself a strong coffee. I was going to stay up all night if I had to and do Mr. Gerhard Richter justice.

That’s how it happens in films anyway. In reality, caffeine and I are not really great friends. What started as hyperactivity turned to the inability to concentrate on ‘Ema (Nude on a Staircase)’ the painting all the books said was a pivotal piece, for more than 30 seconds. Why is she walking down the stairs? Why is she nude? The night was a cycle of periods of blind panic, followed by ‘I can do this’ pet talks to myself. Then, “it all makes sense now”, followed by, “I don’t understand anything” the grand finale was a caffeine-induced migraine.

I did my presentation the next day, needs to say it was a huge pile of dog poo. My fellow students visibly cringed, my very serious and organised teacher (she even matched her hair scrunchy to her outfit) looked like I’d just taken a Gerhard Richter painting and set fire to it.  Afterwards, nobody asked any questions because it was clear I had learnt nothing about the artist, so I slumped off home to bed.

Luckily it was not a waste. It taught me many valuable lessons, which I took into grown-up-hood. Since entering the world of work and surviving four years in the battlefield of PR I can now say I’m completely clean of my disorganised habits and I know my limits when it comes to caffeine. I’ve almost gone the other way, I get really annoyed with my colleagues if they don’t get back to me on time or don’t communicate properly. I live my life in blocks of time and I’ve even considered coordinating my hair scrunchy with my clothes.

Whenever I slack off or feel like being lazy I think of the sick feeling I had in my stomach when I did that presentation and I roll my sleeves up. However, it didn’t happened overnight, and it’s taken me a long time to be able to appreciate a Gerhard Richter painting again.

When I heard that a Richter retrospective was taking place at the Centre Pompidou, I knew that it was time for me to face my demons. The exhibition was incredible and I completely fell in love with his work, hallelujah I’m cured! I’m even going to see top Art Historian T.J.Clark do a presentation on Richter’s work this week.

I hope he’s prepared!

Gerhard Richter, ‘Panorama’ is on at the Centre Pompidou until September 24th, see it quick before it’s gone!


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