Gerhard Richter began work on his ATLAS in 1962, and after five decades of ongoing additions and revisions, he finalized it in 2013. The exhibition presents the entire set of plates, which the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus
acquired starting in 1996.
The ATLAS is a unique and visually dense compilation that embodies Richters life and artistic evolution by bringing together sources for many of his works with countless other motifs he never realized in paintings. The artist thus offers us glimpses of themes and materials that stimulated his visual imagination, indirectly revealing which of these themes defied his attempts to find adequate pictorial solutions. We see the artist wide open to a wealth of impressions, selecting only those motifs for his art that struck him as especially meaningful. By uniting photographs with newspaper clippings, sketches, and collages, each of the plates creates a sense of order; grouped in larger clusters, they suggest overarching themes. Instead of reading the plates in their chronological order, we may also browse them horizontally, studying a particular cluster in depth and exploring related themes and motifs. It is fascinating to see humble images becoming the sources for great works and to watch the artist conceiving ideas for spaces that grow to utopian dimensions.
Of special interest in this connection are the models on display in the exhibition in which Richter developed his boldly utopian visions of spaces for his pictures in more concrete terms. The exhibition is complemented by a large new work made of glass panes and a series of models for various glass pane works. The theme of the pane of glassmost starkly, the mirrorpervades Richters entire oeuvre beginning in the 1960s, when he exhibited four tilted panes together with his paintings. The transparency of glass hints at a promise of immaterial lightness, but glass panes are also very physical objects, with surfaces whose visual density depends on their inclination and the angle from which we look at them, becoming semitransparent or presenting a reflection that obscures what is behind them.
The exhibition uses the ATLAS as a roadmap to trace diverse creative processes. The two artists editions Betty (1991) and Domecke (1998), for example, are based on oil paintings of the same titles created in 1988 and 1987, respectively. The photographic sources for these paintings may be found on plates 445 and 446 of the ATLAS. In realizing his ideas, Richter adopts an open strategy, testing which form lets an idea become a picture and exploring the different material realizations it can pass through. The four Jacquard Tapestries (2009) after an abstract oil painting created in 1990 (WVZ 7244) illustrate the translation of an elementary visual idea into a different technique that is no longer under the artists direct control.
Fourteen tall collages made in preparation for the striped paintings show how the manual creative act of arranging the blocks of stripes precedes the technical realization of the pictures. The meticulous execution and the precise details reveal how the pictorial density of these works is achieved. (The painting Strip, WVZ 9241, which was made in 2012, is on display in the galleries at the Lenbachhaus.)
The title Mikromega (Greek for smalllarge) was chosen for this exhibition to highlight the dialogical principle that underlies the ATLAS. The small images and sketches in which the artist jotted down ideas await implementation in large formats. Composed of many thousands of photographs, newspaper clippings, sketches, and collages, the ATLAS with its eight hundred and two (802) plates coalesces into a single enormous picture. But the exhibition also seeks to demonstrate how the small models and tiny sketches and notes develop into huge works and concrete visions of spaces. Micromégas is the title of Voltaire gave to an essay in natural philosophy in the guise of a story (1752) in which he speculated about the relative dimensions of reality.
Gerhard Richter, born 1932 in Dresden, lives in Cologne.