Daniel Richter: The Morning After
David Zwirner Gallery
525 West 19th Street
between 10th and 11th Avenues
May 10 to June 19, 2004
This is Daniel Richter’s first show in New York. In Germany and elsewhere in Europe he is a big deal and much, very much, has been written and said about this provocative work. It seems Richter was an abstract painter for a short while and has recently taken to making politically charged figurative paintings of urban confusion, ritual and violence. These are very large-format paintings done in an apocalyptic-illustrational style. Well versed in the conventions of nineteenth century history painting, from France to Russia, Richter uses this format to capture enigmatic moments in seemingly staged or ritual events of violence and confusion.
In “Tuwenig” a cabaret-style performer (boots, top hat, bare legs) entertains a pack of glaring wolf-dogs in a sylvan setting at night. In “Tefzen” a showgirlish befeathered circus performer poses-appliance model style-in the midst of what appears to have been a gladiatorial battle of the animals; the victors are still snarling, and the vanquished are rigid in defeat and death. This is theater of the absurd spectacle: cruel, sometimes solemn, and delivered with “what you see is what you get” bluntness, conveyed in a panoply of painterly technique and reference, from the deliberately awkward to the skillfully rendered.
The variety of paint applications is dazzling. Color ranges from psychedelic to fecal. The combination of elements in the paintings sometimes verges on the hokey. The political stance is never quite clear and Richter’s anarchistic response to query is fairly opaque. He’s determined to be socially engaged as well as a painter. This is fine, at least until the illustrators at Rolling Stone catch up to his madness.
The sources of these works range from famous news photos and sundry magazine clippings to children’s books. There is a feeling of familiarity about all the paintings even though the goings on are outrageous and sometimes deeply funny. There is a sense of inevitability in the proceedings, as if it has been enacted before and likely will again. This theatricality may be saying more about the cyclical nature of history than it wants to. For now the paintings pass as art and wicked entertainment.