“A portrait must not express anything of the sitter’s soul,” says Gerhard Richter in a quote from early in his retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery. He must be a blast at parties.
There’s an argument that Richter is the world’s most influential contemporary artist and in these days of forms and identities merging into each other it’s a compelling one. The book I mentioned elsewhere (this one) spends a long time pondering what is and isn’t a photograph – and it should be reasonably straightforward to say that a Richter painting isn’t one … but then it is a clearer photographic representation of reality than, say, this image that was part of the 2007 Photographic Portait Prize. Many of the images are paintings drawn from found or magazine photographs – some of famous people, some not. All are decontextualised and blurred.
In keeping with Richter’s cold eye, the exhibition is presented in stark, white rooms with minimal detail accompanying the images – your reaction is thus as Richter would want it to be: you don’t know who these people are until you read the brochure. It is also quite startling how up-to-the-minute the blurred black and whites feel – they look like CCTV surveillance pictures.
It is quite a small exhibition – 34 images and a collection of actual photographs arranged on the entrance escalator – but well worth visiting and one that I will be thinking about for a long time to come.
Incidentally there’s a whole lot of Gerhard and his painting here