(trailer here), now showing in New York at Film Forum.
For some, Richter’s work probably confirms their uncharitable preconceived notions about modern art. The Dresden-born artist is best known for his large abstract paintings and photo-realistic work that would seem to be stylistically at odds with each other. Throughout the film, Belz captures the increasingly self-conscious Richter at work on two canvases in the former style.
After seeking asylum in West Germany in 1961, two Richter murals in the East were painted over out of dogmatic spite. Ironically, Richter deliberately subjects his work to similar treatment, roughly scraping his canvasses with paint squeegees to see how it alters their character. This process might continue past the point paintings are hung for exhibition. Indeed, there is something very Darwinistic about his approach, causing his assistants to openly speculate whether certain paintings will be able “to hold their own.”
GR Painting follows in the tradition of similar documentaries from Kino Lorber-Alive Minds, observing an artist or craftsman at work in their studio-space. However, the portrait of Richter is considerably more engaging than Gereon Wetzel’s El Bulli: Cooking in Progress or Sophie Fiennes’s Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, because Belz brings a more visually dynamic approach to bear on her subject, without the same hushed reverence. However, Richter and his colleagues do not offer the sort of witty commentary heard fly-on-the-wall style from photography book publisher Gerhard Steidl and his roster of artists in Wetzel & Adolphe’s shockingly entertaining How to Make a Book with Steidl.