Back to the place of inspiration: "Gerhard Richter: Engadin"

In an artistic career spanning 60 years, the German artist Gerhard Richter has created a groundbreaking and diverse body of work. With the exhibition “Gerhard Richter: Engadin”, some of his artworks have returned to the valley.
byKonstantin Arnold

Konstantin Arnold is a freelance writer who lives and loves in Lisbon. He writes stories from around the world for newspapers and magazines (and for St. Moritz) to afford himself good olives and Portuguese red wine on Fridays.

Installation view, "Gerhard Richter: Engadin", Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz, 16 December 2023 until 13 April 2024 © 2023 Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter is the most famous living artist in the world. You just have to say that for now. Full stop. You might then continue and row back a little, clarifying that he is one of the most famous, one who sells the most expensive paintings, but then you would have to google how much they sell for. Nor is it important; at least, it is only important to those who can only see the value of something when they know how big it is, how much it weighs and how much it costs. Richter's works can be found all over the world, in Russian dachas, on Arabian yachts, in earthquake-proof cellars, in wooden crates at Sotheby's and of course in the great museums of our time and, of course, in the most exclusive private collections.

Despite that, Gerhard Richter can get by perfectly well without any hyperbole. In a world of the superlative, his work captivates the viewer with its inner, simple and calm strength. He actually looks like that kindly old uncle with white hair who has preserved his health into retirement, who wears a baseball cap and leather wristwatch, a kind of paediatrician character, carrying Haribos, who just likes to go hiking in the Engadin. To spend his holidays, taking a vacation is no longer said for a while now. Some of his works are now on display in St. Moritz.

Installation view, "Gerhard Richter: Engadin", Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz, 16 December 2023 until 13 April 2024 © 2023 Gerhard Richter

Richter uses photographs for his figurative paintings. He then ventures into a kind of abstraction that is maybe even more true than the truth on which they were based. This takes us directly to his iconic curtain paintings and colour panels. A tension between the give and take of visual representation and abstraction of that representation is revealed in monumental grey paintings, romantic landscapes, seascapes, cloudscapes and in portraits.

Richter was born in Dresden in 1932 and came to Sils Maria for the first time in 1989. He has remained loyal to the regions of the Upper Engadin over the years to this day. The exhibition, curated by Dieter Schwarz in three locations, the Nietzsche House, the Segantini Museum and Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz, shows Richter's deep connection to the region, its landscapes, lights and colours in over 70 works. These works comprise paintings, overpainted photos, drawings and an object linking the three exhibition venues, which was produced as an edition and can be seen at each of the three venues.

Installation view, "Gerhard Richter: Engadin", Segantini Museum St. Moritz, 16 December 2023 until 13 April 2024 © 2023 Gerhard Richter

Hans Ulrich Obrist presented these for the first time in the Nietzsche House in 1992. Each of these Escheresque spheres bears the name of a mountain in the Upper Engadin and represents everything that surrounds them or whatever you see in them. According to the curators' interpretation guideline, this is intended to represent the sublime yet inhospitable phenomena of nature that come into such sharp relief in the mountains.

Installation view, "Gerhard Richter: Engadin", Segantini Museum St. Moritz, 16 December 2023 until 13 April 2024 © 2023 Gerhard Richter

Nevertheless, art is what speaks to us. That will vary from soul to soul, but you have to have a soul for it. You will walk past some of his paintings and they won't speak, and some you will stand in front of for half an hour and sometimes someone will come and stand next to you and it's an intimate moment, as if you're spending that moment together in the bed of that painting. It is unpleasant, and it happens, but it is usually a very lonely and individual experience and after a visit to the museum in company, you can only guess at which paintings might have impressed the other person the most. It is interesting which pictures we respond to because they reflect our inner self, that which cannot be explained without painting it or translating it into music. Richter writes, “If the abstract pictures show my reality, then the landscapes and still lifes show my longing.” That is the composition of his mind, all the complex feelings that make up a person: fears, experiences, desires, memories, associations, hurt, melancholy. People should get to know each other in front of paintings.

Installation view, "Gerhard Richter: Engadin", Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz, 16 December 2023 until 13 April 2024 © 2023 Gerhard Richter

The paintings on display in St. Moritz, are mainly paintings that Richter created from photographs he took while hiking in the Upper Engadin. Landscape paintings, which always fascinated him because of their supposed timelessness. These landscapes show the breadth of Richter's work, its ambiguity, the seductive transfiguration of nature and reflection of its strangeness, until one day you yourself become part of it again, one of many.

A highlight, if that is the appropriate term amidst all the other paintings, is the painting “Waterfall”, from the Winterthur Museum, which clearly traces Richter's exploration of 19th century Romantic painting through to total realism. Somewhat later, the artist painted over some of the Engadin motifs, including depictions of Piz Materdell and Lake Sils, and transformed them into abstract paintings with a melancholy atmosphere that respond to impressions of the landscape and do not betray them. The Nietzsche House mainly shows photographs of snow-covered fir trees, which accompany texts focused on significant historical events by the writer Alexander Kluge in December (Suhrkamp 2010). Just magnificent.

Installation view, "Gerhard Richter: Engadin", Segantini Museum St. Moritz, 16 December 2023 until 13 April 2024 © 2023 Gerhard Richter

Over the 60 years of his artistic career, Gerhard Richter has created a groundbreaking body of work whose thematic and stylistic diversity is unparalleled in the art of our time. With this current exhibition, some of his Engadin artworks are returning to the valley.

Next Up

Nietzsche House

Friedrich Nietzsche found peace, concentration and inspiration during his seven summer stays in this enchanted house
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Nomad is back in town from February 22nd to 25th February – stay tuned.The exhibition Gerhard Richter: Engadin starts on the 16th of December.The newest issue of St. Moritz – Views from the Top is available at the Tourist Office and online!