Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London in February will be led by an exceptional abstract painting by Gerhard Richter. Estimated to realise in excess of £15 million ($25m), Wand (Wall) was held by Richter to be a work of such importance that he chose to keep it in his personal collection for over fifteen years, singling it out as a keynote work for many important museum exhibitions. Never before seen at auction, Wand (Wall) ranks among the greatest works by Richter ever to come to the market. While echoing the work of the great Abstract Expressionist Rothko, Richter here reinterprets his illustrious predecessor’s broad bands of colour in his own very distinctive visual idiom.
Discussing the sale of this work Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art, Europe, said: “The appearance at auction of Wand – one of Richter’s greatest works, which was also of real personal importance to him – is a hugely significant event. This is an incredible time for Richter. Recent exhibitions of his work, as well as the film by Corinna Belz, with all its fascinating detail about his working practice, have cemented his place as one of the greatest artists of our time. This excitement for Richter has also been evident in our salerooms, culminating in the £24.2m ($37.1m) paid for Domplatz, Mailand in May 2012 which established a new record for any living artist.”
During the sixteen years that the work was in Richter’s collection, the painting was exhibited, at his behest, in 21 major shows throughout the world including the monumental exhibition of his work Atlas in Japan in 2001 and the landmark Richter retrospective Forty Years of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
As its title suggests, Wand (Wall) presents a compelling wall of colour with horizontal bands of cadmium red, blue and magenta that deliberately echo the chromatic intensity of a Mark Rothko. Richter directly acknowledged the prevailing influence of Abstract Expressionism but at the same time he recognised that it was no longer entirely relevant, “Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, their heroism derived from the climate of their time, but we do not have this climate” (the artist in: Michael Kimmelmann, “Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms”, The New York Times, January 27, 2002, n.p.). Instead Richter sought a ‘heroism’ for his own time and Wand (Wall) epitomises his achievements in this respect.
Painted in 1994, Wand (Wall), came at the height of Richter’s experimentations in the field of abstraction. The previous decade had seen the development of his first squeegee paintings and the technique he developed, of applying vibrant layers of pigment which are then repeatedly scraped back and worked over, came to characterise his distinctive painterly style. In Wand (Wall) this technique provides the overarching bands of colour with an incredible textural depth. The result is a work of astonishing visual intensity that sits among the most powerful of Richter’s abstract masterpieces.
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London 12 February 2014