The 8th of January saw the end of the retrospective exhibition of the German painter Gerhard Richter in the London’s Tate Modern. The exhibition, Panorama, offered a wonderful overview on the works created by the artist over a half century. In addition to the exceptional quality, the extensive variety of Richter’s output stands out: 192 Farben (1966), a canvas made with industrial paint, comprising 192 random coloured rectangles. 4 Glasscheiben (1967), a series of four glass plates with black frames, each placed at a different angle. Betty (1988), a portrait of Richter’s daughter, clearly showing the influence of Johannes Vermeer. More recently, Abstraktes Bild (1999), an abstract painting of various converging and layered planes of colour.
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) spent his entire life abstracting reality. You can have a good look at his personal journey to leave the figurative image behind at The Hague Municipal Museum. In a number of steps figurative painting develops into an abstract visual language of primary coloured planes and black lines against a white background. He believed so strongly in his own abstractions that every other expression was denounced, figurative work could simply no longer exist.
Mondrian joined ‘De Stijl’ magazine (1917-1931), established by Van Doesburg in 1917. The proponents of ‘De Stijl’ strove for a radical reform of the arts, in their view an abstract and minimalist representation was the answer to the modern era. However, the idea of ‘De Stijl’ proved difficult to summarize in a common visual language; consider the infamous differences between Van Doesburg and Mondrian. According to Van Doesburg there was still a place for the oblique line in the new era, as shown in many of his paintings and his famous interior design of Café Aubette in Strasbourg. Mondrian’s answer hangs in the Amterdam Municipal Museum of Modern Art; two intersecting black lines on a square canvas tilted 45 degrees. As long as the image is orthogonal, the frame can be diamond shaped. The polarisation eventually led to a break between Mondrian and ‘De Stijl’ in 1924.
The works of Richter connect contradictory ways of imagining. The four glass panels of ‘Glasscheiben’ reflect the spectator in a variety of arresting ways, while still providing a view to the space beyond. The portrait of his daughter coexists with an abstract work of layered colour planes, its’ details calling upon personal visual memories. Side by side, intertwined. What result does polarisation yield after all…?