History of Our World

October 18, 1977 | Gerhard Richter

Posted in Art, Print by B on January 28, 2010

Arrest 1 (Festnahme 1). 1988. Oil on canvas, 92 x 126.5 cm

Confrontation 2 (Gegenüberstellung 2). 1988. Oil on canvas, 112 x 102 cm

Confrontation 3 (Gegenüberstellung 3). 1988. Oil on canvas, 112 x 102 cm

Hanged (Erhangte). 1988. Oil on canvas, 201 x 140 cm

Record Player (Plattenspieler). 1988. Oil on canvas, 62 x 83 cm

Cell (Zelle). 1988. Oil on canvas, 201 x 140 cm

Man Shot Down 2 (Erschossener 2). 1988. Oil on Canvas 100.5 x 140.5 cm

Dead (Tote). 1988, Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm

Funeral (Beerdigung). 1988. Oil on canvas 200 x 320 cm

In mid-winter 1989 a quiet tremor shook Germany. Judged from the outside, the extent of its impact might initially have seemed out of proportion to the actual cause. But as a long delayed aftershock and a wholly unexpected aftershock to the much greater upheavals of a decade earlier, the jolt caught people off guard, and reawakened deep-seated, intensely conflicted emotions.

The epicenter of this event was in Krefeld, a small Rhineland city near Cologne where, between February 12 and April 4, 1989, a group of fifteen austere grey paintings were exhibited at Haus Esters, a local museum designed in 1927-30 as a private residence by the modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The author of these works was the then fifty seven year old painter Gerhard Richter, well known for the heterogeneous and enigmatic nature of his art, which ranged from postcard-pretty landscapes to minimal grids, alternatively taut or churning monochromes to crisp colour charts, and heavily textured, even garish, abstractions to cool black-and-white photo based images. The ensemble on view at Haus Esters belonged to the latter genre, which had preoccupied Richter from the outset of his career in 1962 until 1972 but which he had seemed to abandon since then. However the subject of the new paintings was unlike anything he had addressed before. Both the subject and the fact that an artist of Richter’s indisputable stature had chosen to paint it stirred Germany and, in short order, sent reverberations around the world.

Richter’s theme was the controversial lives and deaths of four German social activists turned terrorists: Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Holger Meins and Ulrike Meinhof. The collective title, October 18, 1977, commemorates the day the bodies of Baader and Ensslin – along with their comrades, the dying Jan-Carl Raspe and the wounded Irmgard Möller – were discovered in their cells at the high-security prison in Stammheim, near Stuttgart, where they had been incarcerated during and after their trials for murder and other politically motivated crimes. Almost exactly three years earlier (October 2, 1972) Holger Meins had died from starvation during a hunger strike called by the jailed radicals to protest prison conditions. Ulrike Meinhof had been found hanging in her Stammheim cell (May 9, 1976) shortly before she and the others were sentenced to life terms. Her death was ruled as suicide as were those of Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe the following year (October 18, 1977), although there was widespread suspicion that the four had been murdered.

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October 18, 1977 | Gerhard Richter

Robert Storr

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

2000

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Red Army Faction

October 18, 1977, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Gerhard Richter

B

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