Gerhard Richter, Two Candles, 1982, oil on canvas, 47¼” x 39½”, Art Institute of Chicago, photo by rob golkosky, Creative Commons Attribution License via Flickr.

The Really, Very Banal Gerhard Richter

By many standards, Gerhard Richter is the most successful living painter in the world.  Ironically, he achieved that status by questioning the value of painting itself.

Many postmodern artists acknowledge the demise of innovation in certain media, especially in painting.  Some believe that painting is dead because modern artists exhausted all possibilities within the medium so they have become quite introspective, evaluating their role within the history of art and the history of painting.  These artists ask, “Can one return to figural representation after two-dimensionality in painting had reached its limits?”

This is one of a few paintings Richter did after photographs of candles.  He clearly shows that his painting is copied from a photograph.  It is something that is common in his practice and he never tries to hide it, claiming that anyone can do what he does… and that this is the real tragedy of art.

These candles are reminiscent of candles that appear in religious paintings from the Baroque era by Georges de la Tour and Artemesia Gentileschi; yet, because they are rote copies of photographs, they are rendered banal.

Richter intended these paintings to speak of the hypocrisy in contemporary culture wherein religious paintings speak to us – we love religious art – yet many people no longer have religion.  To Richter, his paintings of candles reflect the true religiosity of Western Civilization, which he believes is less than heart-felt.

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