A painting by the German artist Gerhard Richter owned by the ageing rock star Eric Clapton has set a new auction record for the German abstract artist. ‘Abstraktes Bild’ was sold to an anonymous buyer after several telephone bidders went head to head for more than five minutes at Sotheby’s auction in London, until it eventually sold for £21,321,250 to applause and astonishment from the room. The 1994 abstract oil on canvas from the guitarist’s collection was estimated to sell for between £9 million to £12 million, but overtook the artist’s previous record in excess of £8 million. The previous record for Gerhard Richter was established in New York in May was £13 million.
Sotheby’s described Abstraktes Bild work as a ”masterpiece of calculated chaos” and a ”paradigm of Gerhard Richter’s mature artistic and philosophical achievement”.Alex Branczik, senior director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said: ”Abstraktes Bild is one of the great abstract masterpieces by Gerhard Richter, and its appearance on the market presents collectors with the unique opportunity to acquire an outstanding work by one of the greatest living painters.”
Born in Dresdon in 1932, Gerhard Richter moved to West Germany from the East before the erection of the Berlin Wall. Settling in Dusseldorf, he had had the ‘Socialist Realist’ modes of his early education challenged by exposure to Fluxus’ anti-formalist ethos, and ‘Pop’ works by the likes of Lichtenstein and Warhol. In the 1960s, Richter had begun to use photographs as ready-made objects – often working from family snapshots but also appropriating media images –, creating realist ‘photo-paintings’ that simulated photography, but also converted the photographic into the painterly, the real into the hyper-real. Existing at the threshold of painting and photography, these works questioned the status of both media, examining the loss of painting’s public function in the light of photography’s usurpation of the recording process.
Richter was notable for being one of the first German artists to reflect on their then-recent national history, explicitly addressing National Socialism by painting the portraits of both those who had been members as well as victims of the Nazi party. Richter’s practice, however, is perhaps most remarkable for its diversity. Simultaneous to his realist photo works, he produced abstract paintings that were concerned (in his own words) with the ‘transcendental’ or ‘inexplicable’. And ultimately’. Last year Tate Modern mounted Panorama a retrospective of the artist’s work. It was an exciting prospect to see the full extent of this artist’s innovative exploration of painting since the 1960s i.