Gerhardt Richter’s Cage (by Clairan Ferrono)

The Tate Modern in London has a room dedicated to the 6 large (approx. 9′ square) abstract paintings in Gerhard Richter’s Cage series (2006).  These works are dedicated to modernist composer John Cage who famously stated, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” The surfaces and layers of these phenomenal works by an acknowledged world master certainly say something to me.

Cage 1 2006

Cage 1 2006

Cage 2 2006

Cage 2 2006

Cage 6 2006

Cage 6 2006

These paintings use Richter’s repeated technique of loading a squeegee with paint and dragging it across the canvas, scraping back paint, and repeatedly dragging paint across again, before the paint is dry, blurring the images, and layering the paint.  I read about this technique long after I’d seen these works.  I had written in my notebook at the time I saw them, “I feel these paintings in the gesture of pulling the paint down and away.”  The immediacy of that gesture, the visceral feeling it creates, ironically makes these large, cool canvases seem quite intimate. From a distance the canvasses are cool, static, mainly horizontal and somewhat monochromatic:  several of them are largely cool grey and white. From up close, however,  they are energetic, hot and vibrant  with flecks and bits and blobs of multitudes of color and shapes.

These works are completely abstract and yet, yet . . .  watery, reflective, filled with nature and figures, glimpsed, half seen, fleeting, almost as if remembered from a dream. The colors of these paintings reveal both the seasons and light at different times of day from sunrise to sunset.  In Cage 1, two thirds of the painting is like looking into the center of a river, with highly reflective sunlight on the extreme right.  The dark blue band at the top third creates a visual wall from which the reflections seems to dance off the “water.”  A similar “wall” can be seen in the top third of Cage 2.  This seems more urban to me, like a wall along a canal. Cage 3 seems more wall than water, perhaps the bottom third is reflection, perhaps not.  Cages 4, 5, and 6 all seem to be about the middle — perhaps of a wall, perhaps water reflected: graffiti? blood? remains of ripped down posters? is that a reflected figure in the upper right quadrant of Cage 6?

Richter is concerned with art as mirror.  Perhaps this series functions that way.  Do we always see only our own reflections in abstract painting?  Or is the reflection of the painter in the background, and behind him the world?  Nothing or everything?

9 Responses to “Gerhardt Richter’s Cage (by Clairan Ferrono)”

  1. 1 young February 14, 2013 at 4:17 am

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a
    comment is added I get three e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service?

    Thank you!

  2. 3 Clairan April 23, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Thanks I hadn’t noticed that straight line. Weird.

  3. 4 Steve April 23, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Hi – had a similar reation to the writer when I visited Tate Modern last week-end. Went with intention of viewing Dalis, Picassos etc. Francis Bacon’s pictures absorbing and unsettling. Viewed this collection – had previosly never seen his work. Heard a bit of Cage. I spent more time in this room than in reat of Tate Modern put together.

    If you can, get there.

    Bought the little card collection from the shop.

    Only thing to add is that in Cage 1 there is a strangely unsettling feature. From top to bottom there is an absolutely straight vertical maybe 15% in from the right. Yes he drags paaint, but even his horizontal tines are ‘organic. This vertical is ruler straight and perpendicular. Fascinating to stare at.

  4. 5 kathy April 10, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Clairan, thanks for sharing these inspiring works of art. I think they are fascinating and I too would like to see them in person.

  5. 6 Olga February 24, 2009 at 10:12 am

    You ask big questions. After my initial response I have been mulling them over. I was also found diverting the idea that in framed oil paintings the viewer does see themselves as well as the painting (Frances Bacon always insisted that his paintings be framed with glass – so one is always in there with his subject) – and in looking out of a moving train window it is the reflection of oneself which remains constant.

    The artist always affects what we see in a painting by presenting it to us. Any further information, back story, and setting contributes to this presentation, even if it is sought out by the viewer at a later stage. I think that our first reaction to a piece remains with us even if this reaction is modified or even reassessed completely afterwards. Our response is our response, but it is always the artist who triggers it. With abstract paintings the artists input is more obvious because the work does not necessarily conform to an accepted vocabulary of visual symbols. Except that nowadays that distinction may not be so clear cut because we have had more than a generation’s history of abstract art. For instance these paintings pictured although abstract could be seen as reminiscent of Monet’s late waterlily paintings.

    The world comes in from both directions because both artist and viewer are in and affected by the world in larger and smaller ways.

  6. 7 Olga February 23, 2009 at 8:01 am

    I saw an exhibition of Gerhardt Richter’s paintings some years ago at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and the overwhelming feeling I came away with was one of abstraction. My abstraction. It was as if I was in a train and the rest of the world was outside the window, moving. Glimpses of recognition, of remembering, of speculating pulling my thoughts, running into each other.

    It was a fascinating experience, and not one I have had with any other artist. I don’t react in the same way to one individual painting of his amongst the work of others – unless I stand in front of it for a while and let my mind drift.

    I would say that my reaction to the Richter exhibition those years ago is similar to my liking for contemporary music, such as that of Cage. The musical experience is more visceral for me because it occupies both hearing and conjured sight.

    I love these paintings, and in a room of their own seen while listening to Cage on my ipod would be a wondrous experience. I had not realised that they are on display at present. Thank you for letting me know.

  7. 8 Darcy February 23, 2009 at 7:50 am


  8. 9 eileen February 23, 2009 at 5:07 am

    The blue-greens with small bits of white are evocative of water. What if he had used orange and brown instead? I think these are interesting, the abstract style leaves room for your imagination. I would like to see them in person.

    I must say, though, that I have some decorator fabric that looks similar to this. If these paintings were fabric I’d definitely buy it.

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