Who: Brinda Kumar, Corinna Belz
What: Livestreamed prerecorded discussion
Where: MetMuseum Facebook and YouTube
When: Tuesday, June 23, free, 6:00
Why: In conjunction with the expansive Met Breuer exhibition “Gerhard Richter: Painting After All,” which opened March 4 for a brief run before the pandemic lockdown and hopefully will continue once the crisis is over, the Met’s “Insider Insights” series will examine Corinna Belz’s 2011 documentary, Gerhard Richter Painting. [Ed. note: It was announced on June 22 that the Met Breuer will be closing for good, so the exhibition will not be coming back.] On June 23 at 6:00, writer-director Belz will be joined by Met Modern and Contemporary Art assistant curator Brinda Kumar for a prerecorded interview discussing the making of the film, which can be streamed for free through July 31 here.
There’s nothing abstract about the title of Belz’s documentary on the German artist, no missing words or punctuation marks. Gerhard Richter Painting is primarily just that: Ninety-seven minutes of Gerhard Richter painting as he prepares for several exhibitions, including a 2009 show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City. In 2007, Belz got a rare chance to capture Richter on camera, making a short film focusing on the stained-glass window he designed for the Cologne Cathedral. Two years later, the shy, reserved Richter, who prefers to have his art speak for itself, invited Belz into his studio, giving her remarkable access inside his creative process, which revealingly relies so much on chance and accident. Belz films Richter as he works on two large-scale canvases on which he first slathers yellow paint, adds other colors, then takes a large squeegee and drags it across the surface, changing everything. It’s fascinating to watch Richter study the pieces, never quite knowing when they are done, unsure of whether they are any good. It’s also painful to see him take what looks like an extraordinary painting and then run the squeegee over it yet again, destroying what he had in order to see if he can make it still better. “They do what they want,” he says of the paintings. “I planned something totally different.”
About halfway through the film, a deeply concerned Richter starts regretting his decision to allow the camera into his studio. “It won’t work,” he says. “At the moment it seems hopeless. I don’t think I can do this, painting under observation. That’s the worst thing there is.” But continue he does, for Belz’s and our benefit. Belz (Life After Microsoft, Peter Handke: In the Woods, Might Be Late) even gets Richter to talk a little about his family while looking at some old photos, offering intriguing tidbits about his early life and his escape to Düsseldorf just before the Berlin Wall went up. Belz also includes clips from 1966 and 1976 interviews with Richter, and she attends a meeting he has with Goodman about his upcoming show, lending yet more insight into the rather eclectic artist. “To talk about painting is not only difficult but perhaps pointless, too,” Richter, who turned eighty-eight in February, says in the 1966 clip. However, watching Gerhard Richter Painting is far from pointless; Belz has made a compelling documentary about one of the great, most elusive artists of our time. “Man, this is fun,” Richter says at one point, and indeed it is; watching the masterful artist at work is, well, a whole lot more fun than watching paint dry.