Daniel Richter

20 Oct 2007 t/m 8 Mar 2008

Few people have done as much as Daniel Richter (b. 1962) to set the tone for German painting since the 1990s. His first major retrospective at the GEM will show how his massive paintings weave together elements from history, art history and the mass media to create highly idiosyncratic images that often display an extreme sensitivity to contemporary political events. In addition to many large-format oil paintings, the exhibition will include a selection of sketches never previously on show to the public. Richter uses these both as a diary and as a source of inspiration.

Daniel Richter trained at the art school in Hamburg and worked as an assistant to Albert Oehlen (b. 1954). His first paintings were abstracts, painted in bright colours and a psychedelic style which lay somewhere between graffiti and interlacing ornamentation. His points of reference were Surrealism, the ‘underground’ and the intertwined grotesques of Italian Mannerism.

Strife and menace

The millennium brought a complete change of direction in Richter’s work: he switched from abstraction to the human form. Since then, his paintings have been exclusively figurative. His large-format canvases crowded with figures, inspired by reproductions in newspapers or history books, convey an extraordinarily vivid impression of strife and menace. Richter’s switch to figurative painting was widely celebrated as the rebirth of history painting. However, it is a rebirth under a different star: whereas traditional history paintings were open to only one interpretation, Richter’s images are far more ambiguous.

The fall of utopia

One of the key themes in his work is the failure of the modern utopia. He also likes to refer to politically charged events, often in a disguised form, and to draw on the collective memory of our global village. His 2003 painting Duueh, for example, shows a number of human figures apparently plummeting earthwards. Richter’s handling of the paint creates a striking impression of speed and of figures in the grip of gravity. The painting raises associations with the victims who sprang from the flames of the World Trade Centre on 9/11: an image seared into the visual memory of each one of us. However, the background in the picture is nothing like the urban landscape of downtown New York; it is more reminiscent of some picturesque Italian village.


The subjects of Richter’s work display a constant ambivalence. Most of his works can therefore be regarded as ‘puzzles’ which challenge the viewer’s imagination and knowledge of politics.

The exhibition has been organised in cooperation with the Hamburger Kunsthalle and will be accompanied by a catalogue containing essays by Dietmar Dath, Christoph Heinrich and Kitty Scott (published by DuMont, price € 28).