Following from the previous post, as an example of visual noise I would like to present any abstract work by Gerhard Richter. Pictures like this are the high class, supremely tasteful equivalent of stadium rock, a sclerotic form if there is one today. Overpriced and short on content. Particulars are drowned in a wall of sound, and the audience doesn’t want an aesthetic experience anyway—form is too strenuous—it just wants to identify with a life style or a vague politics. But the viewer is free to discover many incidents in the paint, just as the compositions of Xenakis and Stockhausen presented an absorbing aural universe of many small movements. Avant-garde music and stadium rock converge—maybe here.

Installation of Richter’s Cages (2006) at the Tate Modern

Differences of social class, artistic intention and sophistication of ambition are no alibis—in short, top and bottom are the same. Of course one can never argue with taste.

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2 Responses to Noise

  1. Kevin Kerber says:

    I feel differently about Richter’s painting, in this case his abstractions. They are certainly overpriced but you can’t blame him for the contagion and hysteria of the marketplace. The question for me is what qualifies as “content” in abstract painting. I don’t think his paintings are short on content. They engage the eye in all sorts of ways and at all scales, from a distance as well as close up. They show a rich and layered process, sometimes with a brilliant palette, others times with a restrained one. I think his abstractions are simply beautiful, and I, for one, don’t regard that as any kind of disqualification. Comparison to stadium rock seems entirely inapt.

    • Thanks a lot for that comment. I’ve been missing some serious opposition. If you look back on the blog you will find many posts on Richter, in which the criticism is a bit more nuanced. You could click on the Richter tag. He’s not just overpriced (I agree that’s irrelevant) but massively over valued critically.
      I know that his work has a kind of beauty, but I like other kinds better. Maybe the post did not make it so clear, but I think the best comparison is with a composer like Xenakis, who among other things made sheets of electronic sound in which countless small movements, most of which would not be registered by the listener, add up to a general effect. It’s that “general effect” that I find problematic in Richter, though I understand that it has a certain beauty. The comparison with stadium rock, which also offers a generalized effect, is maybe more valid than an “art” music comparison, because Richter’s work has no pretense to difficulty anyway. And there is a sense in which pop music and art music followed the same path. At least that’s what Adorno would have said, and I’m guessing that you read the recent post on music. And also I think that there is less of a difference between popular culture and high culture in the art world than there is in music. Rock music depends on volume and Richter’s paintings depend a lot on sheer size for their effect makes another comparison.
      I think we have to be more critical. What does “beautiful” mean anyway? Richter’s work has no form. Or the form is practically disintegrated. A better, richer, more difficult, more complex beauty comes from articulated forms. Colors may be pretty, but colored forms are better. The eye can be engaged, but better if the eye, mind, feelings and body are all engaged. His works are “simply” beautiful, but too simple for me.

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