Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Gallery Visit - Tate Modern

I visited the Tate Modern at Christmas. There were many artworks I saw there that were of interest but I have decided to focus on one artist for my learning log - Gerhard Richter. In particular I found his series of paintings inspired by John Cage particularly interesting in relation to my recent research on art and music.

Gerhard Richter

Cage (1) - (6)


The inspiration for these paintings comes apparently not from an analysis of the sound quality of a particular piece of music, but a shared aesthetic of allowing aspects of chance to control the development of the artwork:

In an interview with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2006, Richter discussed the Cage paintings and the ongoing significance of John Cage’s concepts of discipline, chance and coincidence for his works. Chance plays a definitive role in abstract painting, Richter explained: ‘Despite all my technical experience, I cannot always exactly foresee what will happen when I apply or remove large amounts of paint with the scraper. Surprises emerge, disappointing ones, pleasant ones, which in any case represent changes to the painting – changes that I have to process first in my mind before I can continue’ (Richter 2009, p.531) ("Cage (1) - (6), Gerhard Richter 2006 | Tate"). 

These dense images apparently owe much to chance, the way the squeegee moved and removed the paint could only partially be controlled. However, I would argue that much of this is controlled, the choice of color for example. If the technique creates uncontrolled color mixing then the artist has certainly chosen a limited color palette, possibly to control this, or to reflect the minimalistic style which is sometimes a feature of Cages work.

Example of Cages work:

Variations II (1961)

This work is intended "for any number of players and any sound producing means." The score consists of eleven transparent sheets: six with lines and five with points. The mechanism is the same as in Variations I: perpendiculars are dropped from points to lines to determine sound characteristics, except that the list of characteristics is different: frequency, amplitude, timbre, etc.("Variations (Cage)")

This piece of music is an example of the 'happenings' period of Cage's work, music inspired by quite random events. Many of these pieces involved quite complicated instructions to create these random events, which seems ironic. This begs the question, is anything truly random?

Richter painted abstract works based on music previously. A series of paintings inspired by Bach appear to utilize similar techniques of applying and removing thick layers of paint with a squeegee. However, the music of Bach is very different, a lot less is left to chance. The music always has a clear structure and is seen as extremely orderly and balanced. How Richter has used this music as inspiration here is unclear, the image is certainly calmer and more balanced than the Cage images with clearer lines and strong horizontal lines creating more order and balance. The colors are bright and create strong contrast. I could connect these features to qualities of the sound of many pieces of music by Bach, such as clearly structured forms with contrasting sections and keys. However, if we analyze from the same view point as the Cage paintings and assume the artist has taken the same artistic intention to composition a different analysis could be made. J. S. Bach created balanced musical works with the confines of a system of rules designed to create balanced and ordered harmony suitable for music to be used in church. In the paintings Richter has followed formal rules of composition by creating a composition based on thirds divided by the use of color vertically. Balance has been created by using colors of equal intensity with one area of focus created by the use of white in the centre. A triadic color scheme has been used, a classic way of achieving balance in a composition whilst maintaining contrast.

"Cage (1) - (6), Gerhard Richter 2006 | Tate". Tate. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
"Richter In The 21St Century: Real And Tangible Accomplishments » Biography » Gerhard Richter". N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
"Variations (Cage)". N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

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