Gerhard Richter's decision to rework one painting (Abstract Painting 724-4, 1990) into four individual Jaquard-woven tapestries has cool deliberation at its core, in contrast to previous works in which the celebrated German artist relinquishes control to chance – ‘chance that is always planned, but also always surprising’, in the artist’s words.
Gerhard Richter, 'Abdu', 2009. Jacquard-woven tapestry, 108 3/4 x 148 7⁄8 inches (276 x 378 cm) © Gerhard Richter 2013.
Displayed together in a new exhibition at Gagosian Gallery’s
Mayfair space, the tapestries appear mechanised, as if pulsing with electro-magnetic light, their borders barely able to contain the weave's fractal-like energy. Yellows, reds, blues and purples interplay until the the works glitter in the gallery. All four tapestries, in particular Musa (2013), rely on Richter’s acute understanding of colour, developed over a six-decade career committed to the tonal possibilities of paint.
Distortion of perspective assumes a prominent role. As one steps closer, darker threads rise to the fore, while flecks of white seem to speckle peacock-blue waves – Richter’s tapestries shape-shift depending on the viewer's proximity. But there is also discipline. Each tapestry has a central motif, a butterfly-shaped spine that holds the visual noise together. Lines are sharp, angular; curves ripple under and over. And despite their painterly qualities there remains the desire to run one's hand over the weave.
Rebecca Swirsky is a London-based critic and short-fiction writer