Gerhard Richter’s Legendary Color Charts Turn 50

Gerhard Richter, Achtzehn Farbtafeln (Eighteen Colour Charts), 1966. Photo: © Gerhard Richter.
Gerhard Richter, Achtzehn Farbtafeln (Eighteen Colour Charts), 1966. © Gerhard Richter.

In 1966, artist Gerhard Richter began painting simple, uniform grids of colored rectangles or squares on a white background.

With just one exception, 1966’s Ema (Nude on a Staircase), the color charts were the first of Richter’s paintings not done in black and white, and mark an important turning point in his career.

The series turns 50 next year. In honor of this landmark, Dominique Lévy gallery in London will host the first comprehensive Color Charts exhibition since its 1966 debut at Munich’s Galerie Friedrich & Dahlem.

Gerhard Richter, 180 Farben (180 Colours), 1971. Photo: © Gerhard Richter.

Gerhard Richter, 180 Farben (180 Colours), 1971.
Photo: © Gerhard Richter.

For the upcoming show, the gallery is reuniting the original paintings from the Friedrich & Dahlem exhibition, including the 6.5-foot tall Sechs Gelb (Six Yellows) (1966), which is one of the series’ largest works.

The Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden is lending 180 Farben (180 Colours), a painting from 1971. It was the first artwork Richter made when he revisited the Color Charts after a five-year hiatus.

Richter was intrigued by the industrially-produced paint chips, which seemed to have such a scientific approach to color, systematically laying out a comprehensive range and hues without thinking about aesthetics. In various interviews over the years, Richter has repeatedly claimed that the series is related to Pop art.

Gerhard Richter, Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours), 1966. Photo: © Gerhard Richter, Tom Powel Imaging, Inc.

Gerhard Richter, Fünfzehn Farben (Fifteen Colours), 1966.
Photo: © Gerhard Richter, Tom Powel Imaging, Inc.

When he returned to the series in the ’70s, Richter stopped using paint chips as source material, and began selecting colors at random, giving himself even less control over the paintings’ composition.

“Based on mixtures of the three primary colors, along with black and white, I come up with a certain number of possible colors and, by multiplying these by two or four, I obtain a definite number of color fields that I multiply yet again by two, etc.,” he told Irmeline Lebeer in 1973, as quoted in the book Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters, 1961–2007.

He continued, “But the complete realization of this project demands a great deal of time and work.”

Gerhard Richter, Zehn große Farbtafeln (Ten Large Colour Charts), 1966. Photo: © Gerhard Richter.

Gerhard Richter, Zehn große Farbtafeln (Ten Large Colour Charts), 1966.
Photo: © Gerhard Richter.

In addition to the series, Dominique Lévy has amassed a collection of archival documents related to their creation, such as a Ducolux sample card for enamel paint dating to the 1960s.

“Gerhard Richter: Colour Charts” will be on view at Dominique Lévy, 22 Old Bond Street, London, from October 13, 2015–January 16, 2016.

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