At 84, Gerhard Richteris considered to be the world’s greatest living painter—and its priciest, too, at least at auction, where his record stands at $46.4 million for 1986’s AbstraktesBild,
just behind Jeff Koons’s $58.4 million sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange).
Gerhard Richteris still vigorously creating work, even though he refers to himself as a picture-maker rather than a painter.
For decades, he’s been laudedfor his dazzling ability to move back and forth between figuration and abstraction, using a vast array of styles. “I think of Richter as a gymnast,” says Neal Benezra, the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which has one of the world’s most significant collections of the artist’s work. “The history of modern painting has been one of painters trying to identify a signature style. Picasso is the great exception to that rule, and Richter has had a fundamental role in putting that idea away for good. He keeps the audience on their toes.”
Along with Richter’s outsize ability has come outsize fortune and fame, and the potential for idolatry, which has soared along with the market for his paintings. “Picasso loved it, and Gerhard does not,” says the critic and curator Robert Storr. “Gerhard has huge artistic ambition, but he was not seeking the kind of artist persona that Picasso and other people of that generation sought. He lives modestly. He is a family man.”
Richter is a merciless editor, stopping, starting, reworking canvases again and again until he is satisfied. He’s not an artist who just picks up a paintbrush and produces a work,It’s this intellectual exercise.Throughout his career, he has also been known to destroy finished work, even after it has been exhibited. He always has had this kind of skeptical attitude toward what he was doing. For this reason, Richter is unimpressed by the present trends in art. “We don’t have so many painters now,” Richter says. “Painters are so entertaining now, with performance, with this and that. Sometimes it makes me angry, because museums only try to catch people,” he adds, referring to their increasing transformation into social-gathering hubs.
The attention his own work receives, Richter believes, centers around one thing: “Money,” he says.He’s also heartily sick of people telling him everything he does is wonderful. “People are so impressed by the success I have that they lose their ability to make a judgment. And there’s so many people who just want to buy a picture. They don’t even care about seeing it. They just want to write the check.”