On my way home from a business trip last friday, I had a good bit of time in St. Louis before my flight, so I headed over to the remarkable St. Louis Art Museum. It is a treat to wonder around such a museum and discover what you will there. It is ever better to find a piece that you’ve loved for years, but didn’t realize it was housed at this (!) museum. That is what I experienced Friday.
The German artist Gerhard Richter is a really fascinating, contemporary painter. I really, really like some of his work and really, really don’t like others. Of the many I like, one is of his daughter, the other his wife. They are both photo-realism pieces, of which he is a master. Betty, the one of his daughter, is at SLAM and on this friday I turn a corner and there it is! Absolutely stunning in both its simplicity and boldness.
It is nearly breathtaking (literally) to so unexpectedly discover a piece that has captured you so deeply, for so long.
The vividness of her jacket, the contrast of the red on white. Her hair is transfixing to me. And her pose of looking elsewhere and all you want to do is look at her. Richter has another painting of this daughter done nearly 10 years earlier. Here, Betty looks directly at you and it’s her eyes that capture you. It’s a little spooky though because of her submissive, vulnerable pose and almost cadaver like appearance.
The other piece that I love from Richter is of his wife, very similar in form and execution to Betty. Reader has the same fascination for me in her hair, the way he accomplishes that presentation of light. The shimmer of it. The scrunchie holding it back. The tight curl of her pony. The light on her neck and that simple necklace there. Her eyes and their absorption in her paper. The texture of her blouse. She is a beautiful woman, whether she actually is or not in life.
I also very much like his two – as I see them – deservedly smack-down responses to Duchamp‘s Nude Descending a Staircase. That’s why I like them, a successful effort at obliterating the philosophy of Duchamp that there is no real beauty in the world to be had. They are here (a woman elegantly draped) and here (warning, she is not!).
But his larger body of work are dramatically modernistic and experimental. I don’t like them, Sam I am. There were two of them at SLAM and the contrast between them and Betty is galactic.
This first one appears to be four large panels of greyish reflective glass. Nothing more, nothing less. You can see someone’s reflection in the far left panel. The panels below are something he does often, paint a canvas making it look like it was smeared. Pretty cool technique, but not worth writing home about, to me. He will do this with some of his photo-realism pieces which I think is very clever and wonderful.
I like doing thing like this, with the help of unsuspecting patrons. SLAM has this wonderful Chuck Close entitled Keith. A woman in an electric orange dress and colorful handbag was walking by with her husband. I asked her if she would pose before this particular painting and allow me to photograph her, creating a wonderful contrast with the greyness of Keith, the stark white of the walls and the brown of the floor. She kindly obliged and nervously started to model there for me. I asked her to simply stand, looking at the painting as she would normally do. She did and this is what it produced.