Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Seeing more in Richter: On "chance"

October 1, 2012 - 5:04pm -- Carol Diehl

Gerhard Richter, 1024 Colours (1974), enamel on canvas, 96 cm x 96 cm Catalogue Raisonné: 356-1

Karen Rosenberg in her review: 

What’s important to know here is that it [Gerhard Richter’s process of digitally deconstructing an image one of his scraped paintings] eventually produces a field of thin colored bands, which Richter then prints, slices, and rearranges manually (as you might shuffle cards) and re-photographs.

NOT so. The first part of the process, the digital deconstruction, might be random (although not entirely, as he is working with an image he created after all, and has also devised the system), but the last part is not. It has been documented that Richter very carefully composed these pieces, saying that otherwise they’d look like wallpaper.

Critics—even when they get their facts right – often do not understand how “chance” (Richter commentator Benjamin Buchloh’s word, when he’s not saying “aleatory”) plays into the making of a work of art, and they make much more of it than artists do. When you read Buchloh, it’s almost as if he interprets this aspect of Richter’s work as indicating that Richter doesn’t care, is not emotionally involved in the outcome and has no formal concerns – when the opposite is the case.

Artists, however, know that “chance,”  “accidental,” and even “aleatory” events are an essential part of their process, and consciously or unconsciously build in opportunities for them to happen. If we didn’t, if we could control everything to the point that we knew exactly how it would turn out, there would be no point in doing it; why undertake the experiment if you know from the outset what will happen? It often seems as if critics don’t understand that ours is a process of investigation that involves more than the simple making of things. That’s why I prefer the word “random” over Buchloh’s “chance” (“random” is about eliminating definite aim, while “chance” sounds like dumb luck) – but even more apt would be “unexpected.” We make art because it keeps us in a constant state of surprise—for better or worse. When we use intuition instead of logic, when we allow for the unexpected, trust the unexpected, it becomes a collaboration with unseen forces. I could be crucified in the art world for saying this, but it often feels like prayer. 


Back in the early 70s we used to say 'indeterminate' rather than chance at my art school, meaning, although we might calculate the possibilities for a painting under a given process, at some point accepted that these factors would not significantly affect an outcome or overall scheme for a painting.

This was in the days of 'systems' Minimalism - lots of pouring and splashing within masked portions of a canvas, through several stages, etc. Phew! thank goodness those days have gone!

Anyway I never think Buchloh really gets a handle on Richter - and I take it Richter doesn't either! So it doesn't surprise me BB is once again projecting some grand social theory on the artist, rather than actually listen to what he has to say, or more importantly - look at the works in question

As you rightly point out, the works are anything but indifferent or detached from their motifs.

Bravo on the polemic.

Submitted by Karen Schifano (not verified) on
After belatedly reading your post this morning, I get what you were saying (on my thread in fb) and I think we agree: The critic attributing intentions to the artist is what gets my goat too! I hope the Richter show is still up, heard about it while away, and your thoughts here have whetted my appetite.

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