Disappearing before Our Eyes

By Gopnik, Blake | Newsweek, September 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

Disappearing before Our Eyes


Gopnik, Blake, Newsweek


Byline: Blake Gopnik

German painter Gerhard Richter tackles the hardest subject: that which no longer exists.

Making art about 9/11 is the ultimate challenge for any artist. How do you take such an utterly iconic image and push it beyond cliche? How do you say anything at all about the attack without veering into either bellowing banality or genteel understatement? In his painting titled simply September, Gerhard Richter, possibly the last of the great painters, may have found answers.

Robert Storr, author of a new book on this one artwork, points out that Richter resisted enlarging his canvas to the scope of the event--the cliched move in grand history paintings--but instead found more meaning in a domestic, even democratic size. September is close to the size and shape of a flat-screen TV, "matching the proportions of the vessel through which we learned the terrible news," says Storr.

But Richter, now 79, has said that even with the scale right, when he originally tried to paint the burning towers, in 2005, he couldn't stomach the results. Working in his classic photo-realist style, he found that the towers' glowing flames registered as garish and attractive: "That couldn't work," he said. …

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