"people can't wait to see corpses" Gerhard Richter, Baader-Meinhof and the Eternal Allure of Tragedy

Introduction

To find a contemporary artist who has thought and written more fluently and honestly about death than Gerhard Richter would be an extraordinary thing. To find one who has dealt with the topic with the same sincerity in his work would be impossible. The making of October 18, 1977 is the point in his career that all his work is now marked as either before or after; it was crucially important to him and has been creating controversy and gaining critical acclaim for twenty years.

In investigating how Richter uses painting to communicate with his audience and enables them to experience the full power of his story telling, I have strived to answer questions about the factors that contribute to the experience of viewing a tragedy. One of the main questions is what makes a tragedy enjoyable; where does the pleasure come from in viewing pain and horror? As I examine the power and influence that tragedy can yield, especially in a visual format, I will apply philosophies and psychological theories to the artist, his motives and intentions and the audience and their reaction to October 18, 1977. It also is important to consider how the enjoyment of tragedy impacts on viewers and on the creator and if the seeking out of tragedy is a natural and human instinct. The painting method used influences how the viewer reads the work and the paintings naturally carry connotations that link to the history and tradition of painting

The fact that Richter uses a real life incident in these paintings is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of the work. It is not his story but by using his visual language to retell it new avenues of thought and experience are opened. However, the context of the images cannot be ignored; Richter intended attention to be paid so the facts behind the images must contribute to the discussion.

I have included all the images of the paintings together at the end of the text, while the images are important for the discussion, I am not using any single images for individual analysis so did not feel it appropriate to include them in the body of the text.


The Story

October 18, 1977 is a cycle of 15 paintings based on police photographs of members of the Baader-Meinhof group. The activities and eventual deaths of the terrorists had captured and moved Richter in the way that it had most of the German public, they inevitably created vastly differing reactions but the immediacy and drama of the events could not be ignored. Richter left ten years between the deaths of the terrorists and the creation of the paintings; he does not give any reason for this other than they could not have been painted at the time. He did not know he was going to make these paintings until he knew that he could not get away without making them, the images he had saved from the time and his memories haunted him into submission.

The history behind the subjects of the paintings effects the way they are viewed, Richter decisively asserts that neither political ideas not historical facts are relevant to the paintings but he does not deny the context as he names the cycle after what was effectively the end of the Baader-Meinhof story. The group were political activists turned terrorists who grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War, possibly due to the guilt and shame they felt for the horrendous crimes their country had committed during the war, which was common in their generation, they took it upon themselves to instigate a social and political overhaul in order to prevent a reoccurrence of such atrocities. They were fighting against capitalism and imperialism and were unyielding and determined in their cause, however, they were criticised and demeaned by some because they lacked the ability to propose an alternative system to the government of the time; they fought against what they knew was wrong but did not seem to stand for anything specific that would be right in its place.

By April 1977, after a trial that took place in a specially built court house, cost over 15 million dollars and lasted over two years, Ulrike Meinhof had already been found hung in her cell, Holger Meins had died of starvation following a hunger strike in prison and the remaining key group members were sentenced to life imprisonment. On the morning of October 18, 1977, the prisoners were found in their cells; Baader had died from a gunshot to the head and Ensslin was hanged, Raspe was also shot in the head but still alive, although he died shortly afterwards and Moller had knife wounds to her chest, she was taken to hospital and was the only one who survived. There was question, among their supporters and sympathisers as to whether the deaths were murder at the hands of the police or suicide. Doubt in the nature of the prisoners’ deaths is not surprising given the previous treatment of the terrorist prisoners and the ruthless approach of the police in eliminating them; there had previously been unquestioned killings of untried, suspected terrorists. It is the deaths of the gang members that Richter eventually focused on, after having considered and attempted an overview of their political actions and relevant events, and that is why the series lends itself to being described as tragic. Heroes to some and to others who may not have necessarily supported their means but respected the end they were battling to achieve, their deaths and hence failure was the end of an era of hope.


Richter

Richter asserts that the painting of these images was not politically motivated; he both admired the zeal and optimism of the activists and understood the actions of the state. He is asking the viewer to engage in the sadness of the event that he has infused into the paintings; this emotional encounter and his experience of depiction are described as ‘a way of understanding those events, being able to live with them.’ (Obrist 1995: 174) He begrudgingly admits that it is likely that the prisoners did commit suicide and that makes the story even sadder as it is an admission of hopelessness and failure by a group of people he was inspired by because of their optimism and determination to instigate change.

Nietzsche wrote, ‘Tragedy does not teach resignation- To represent terrible and questionable things is in itself an instinct for power and magnificence in an artist… there is no such thing as pessimistic art- Art affirms’ (Nietzsche 1968: 434-35) if he is correct perhaps this is why Richter felt he had to create these paintings, it was an artistic instinct that harked back to the times when art needed no conjured pretence of happiness even in order to counter resignation and be affirmative.


Tragic Paintings

The term tragedy has been used throughout history from the very specific literary term to a commonplace word that is overused to the point of much meaning and poignancy being lost. I feel that both the events of and proceeding October 18, 1977 and the subsequent depiction of them by Richter can be described as being tragic without the melodrama of an insincere usage but including classical and modern interpretations of the definition. Parallels have been drawn by German filmmakers between the behaviour and deaths of the women in the Baader-Meinhof group and the characters in Sophocles’ Antigone. The final days of Antigone’s life were spent in an isolated cell before she hung herself; she was being punished for pursuing a cause she deemed just but the state called criminal. The similarities between the fictional and tragic Antigone and the experiences of first Ulrike Meinhof and then Gudrun Ensslin are striking. (Storr 2000: 136)

Aristotelian tragedy does not serve to define Richter’s paintings as tragic as his definition would have the paintings resolve all the misfortune and suffering in the works in order to supply a lesson and a moral that justifies the tragic events. The paintings can however be described as tragic if we call on Brechtian tragedy as a template. The way that the paintings confront the viewer and demand they make their own judgements and the overall discomfiting sensation the viewer is left with echoes the audience’s experience at a Brechtian play. Although the images in the cycle have been carefully chosen the relationship between them is not immediately apparent, in this way they are analogous to the disjointed scenes of a Brechtian play. A tragedy as an inevitable unfolding of events caused by the characters’ integral defects and assumed roles is exactly as Richter tells this story. It is with acceptance of human nature that he portrays the tragedy without passing judgement of any of the characters; neither the terrorists nor the state. This is what allows him to leave the reaction of the viewer up to them; he supplies the viewer with powerful and important information that forces them into using their own knowledge and emotions to respond to the work.


The Audience

This cycle is especially relevant to the German public and in particular the generations who experienced the publicity of the events as they occurred in the 1960s and 1970s and who would recognise the paintings as versions of images they were already familiar with and that were already laden with emotional associations. However the emotional impact of these paintings is not reserved for these people; I saw the cycle at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, with no previous knowledge of the artist, the work, or its context and the experience was notable enough to afford many hours of looking, consideration and research. The slow realisation that one is looking at paintings and not photographs is the first thing, and then the consideration of the subject. As the majority of the paintings are not explicitly about death it takes a while to explain the sense of grief, or if not grief at least solemnity. Learning about these pieces in further depth has only increased my enjoyment of them but before the background information and knowledge of the context, I feel it important to remember the power of the paintings in their own right, especially as the artist intended to sidestep them being categorised as either political or historical paintings.

As Richter describes the work as ‘an expression of a speechless emotion… almost the forlorn attempt to give shape to feelings of compassion, grief, and horror’, (Obrist 1995: 174) the way viewers react gives credit to the artist. It also validates Storr’s claim that the work is ‘a wager on painting’s expressive power’ (Storr 2000: 113) Richter’s cycle is a prime example of how a medium can be used in a remarkable way to conjure genuine and astonishing reaction.

Jan Thorn Prikker describes her experience of viewing the work, ‘my first impression was a mixed one: “That goes too far. That mustn’t be painted.” My second impression was one of even greater horror: “It’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy: a painted, collective dream of hate.”’ (Obrist 1995: 185) The reaction that it should not have be allowed for these paintings to have been made is dismissed by Richter with the justification that by hiding or shying away from horrible images we are only lying to ourselves and this does not create happiness or security. He recalls paintings from earlier periods in time and how they ‘dwell on the pain and suffering, the perils that threaten us as human beings’ (Obrist 1995: 186) and asserts that this was an honest and true way of experiencing the world and it was not this that made people unhappy and it did not create any illusions. Richter admits that while people may have desired to see the terrorists dead and it could appear that he supplied them with satisfaction of this desire, they cannot deny the tragedy of the work because of how the images were selected and painted, so he is actually giving them another opportunity to look at the images they think they enjoy and from this new angle they see humanity and sadness.


Tragic Power

In 1989 Jan Thorn Prikker asked Gerhard Richter, ‘Death, an attractive theme?’ he responded, ‘Yes, people can’t wait to see corpses. They crave sensations.’ (Obrist 1995: 185) A sentiment that is echoed by David Hume’s summary of L’Abbe Dubos’s reflections on poetry, ‘No matter what the passion is; let it be disagreeable, afflicting, melancholy, disordered; it is still better that that insipid languor which arises from perfect tranquillity’. (Hume 1777: 1) If circumstances allowed a purely blissful and content existence a person could not function fully for the lack of stimulation. This stimulation could come in the form of added excitement or pleasure but if it came in the form of distress it would still be welcomed. Dylan Trigg proposes, in reference to Schopenhauer, ‘without the contrast of pain, pleasure is nonexistent; pain is necessary for pleasure to be recognised as such;’ (Trigg 2004: 171) extending the theory to insist that not only would existence be limited without pain, it would be unrecognisable and pleasure would not feature either; leaving a mediocre expanse of time without notable experience.

In Nietzsche’s Daybreak he proposes an alternative philosophy, it is a ‘campaign against morality’ (Nietzsche 1967a: 1) that consists of the replacement of an obsession with morality with a ‘passion for knowledge’.(Bartscherer 2006: 73) In his new system he banishes the supposed misconception that action inspired by pity for another’s plight is beneficial to them in any way and presents the idea that instead of being ‘made gloomy’ (Nietzsche 1967b: 144) we should be edified by witnessing suffering in the same way as we are when watching a tragedy. He argues that pity cannot result in helpful compassionate gestures because the motivation does not come from ‘positive virtue’ but from ‘low self-esteem or even self-hatred’. (Nietzsche 1967b: 131,174) Nietzsche is suggesting that if our enjoyment of tragedy is translated into everyday situations it could rid us of feelings of pity and guilt and have ‘the potential to effect a genuine philanthropy.’ (Bartscherer 2006: 77) Nietzsche also expressed his desire to use the allure of tragedy to win followers for his new non-moral philosophy. His ‘victory will depend more on enchantment and seduction than on demonstration and deduction’ (Bartscherer 2006: 80) while he could argue and justify his theories it makes sense to use the very process he is endorsing to sell itself.




Visual Power

Ann Marie Seward Barry writes about the power of visual imagery, ‘Images can be particularly effective in emotionally moving mass audiences through visual stories, and in functioning as political rhetoric to manipulate public sentiment’. (Seward Barry 1997: 281) This fact is empowering for the artists who create images that they want to have the effect of moving people emotionally, however it also shows how much power is held over the general public in terms of the people who control what is seen and how they can manipulate our reactions through censorship. Richter also expressed his belief in the power of non-verbal information as a mode of communication and as a catalyst for positive action, ‘Whatever we experience non-verbally- by sight, touch, hearing or whatever- gives us a certainty or a knowledge that can lead to better actions and decisions than any theory’. (Obrist 1995: 213)

Richter is certainly telling a visual story with his paintings and is aware of the power it can have over the viewers but he does want the viewers to challenge the work, he wants there to be an examination, a dialogue and a debate. He is sacrificing a part of himself hoping it will create positive outcomes, in that way the work is in homage to the positivity of the Baader-Meinhof group. Nietzsche wrote, ‘When we have to change an opinion about anyone, we charge heavily to his account the inconvenience he thereby causes us.’ (Leight 2002) I think that Richter is making himself available to be charged for the inconvenience of at least challenging people’s opinions of the terrorists and perhaps also of painting.

A disinterest in political meaning is evident in all of Richter’s communication on the cycle however he cannot deny the political implications of what he has made; ‘by picturing doubt he has made the jagged cracks and spiderweb fissures in supposedly monolithic blocks of public opinion apparent along with those that cause private consciousness to ache’. (Storr 2000: 130) Richter has opened up the possibility for differences in opinion and debate under the guise of being about the paintings but they actually feed into opinion on the events depicted and could lead to discussion of broader contemporary politics.


Tragedy, Honesty and Morality

The aim of Richter’s work is to depict this tragedy in such a way as to affect people emotionally. These reactions stand to serve various functions; one is to help the people who witnessed coverage of the live events, Richter himself included, to deal with what they saw and what it meant; the other is also positive but less specific and more widespread in society. Richter believes, ‘The experience and knowledge of horror generate the will to change, enabling us to create altered conceptions of a better reality, and work for their realization.’ (Obrist 1995: 174) This relates to his opinion that the illusion of happiness projected in advertising for example, makes people more unhappy and the ‘right to happiness’ that has been invented is ‘nonsense’; (Obrist 1995: 186) the realistic admission of pain and suffering is the only way we can deal with it and manage our lives without deluding ourselves.

In a discussion of the work with Richter, Jan Thorn Prikker states, ‘I sometimes feel that works of art can momentarily disable the real world. That they keep at least the idea of change alive.’ (Obrist 1995: 194) While Richter agrees that art does provide this possibility, even in the case of October 18, 1977 when the art work is so rooted in the real world, he feels that there is a balance in responsibility that must be maintained, ‘You can’t say that art is no good because Mozart didn’t prevent the concentration camps… All I know is that without Mozart and the rest we wouldn’t survive.’ (Obrist 1995: 195) Art as a human activity and artists themselves are important to the way we live and experience the world, but Richter is not proclaiming any promise that art could counter all the badness that also comes so naturally to humans.

As Nietzsche rejects pity as a motive for charitable or beneficial actions and promotes a detached but honest approach to tragedy and subsequent aid, Richter also confronts horror with honesty but allows connections to inspire positive action. By exposing the terrorists in a way that makes them vulnerable and playing on their fragility he can conjure new opinions in viewers who were steadfast in their beliefs. Jan Thorn Prikker addressed the issue on why we need to see tragedy, and what we get from it, ‘Because we’re still alive. Because we got away scot-free. Because we play a privileged role as spectators. Because that single instant makes us more powerfully aware that we’re alive.’ And Richter responds, ‘that’s a great advantage. But in the process we also see our own end, and that also strikes me as very important’ (Obrist 1995: 187) The double effect of the feeling of fortune and power with the humility that comes from sensing your own fragility is a crucial element in the experience of viewing a tragedy and one that, if monopolised upon, can lead to self reflection and positive self consciousness.

Kramer accuses Richter of creating a ‘series of paintings that attempt to aestheticize the politics of terrorism.’ And after examining Richter’s anti-political responses and assertions that the work must be open to the audience’s interpretations protests that taking ‘refuge from that reality in the looking-glass world of moral ambiguity is itself an act of moral evasion’ (Kramer 2001) Bunny Smedley responds to this criticism,

It is principally in the real world that one needs to take up moral stances against terrorism, and that what the real world projects back upon ambiguous paintings matters more than any permanent unequivocal meaning that might be thought to adhere to the works themselves. (Smedley 2002)

Smedley’s response not only defends Richter's motives for making the paintings it also ruins the art critic’s attempts and desire to analyse and assign finite meaning to the work and in its place puts the suggestion that ambiguity can lend itself to much greater and more relevant meanings. The consideration of reactions to an artwork as opposed to their features or subject also features in Anne Sheppard’s analysis of Kant’s theories of aesthetics, ‘in order to understand representation and expression in art it was necessary to turn away from works of art and their properties and consider the nature of our response to them’.(Sheppard 1989: 59) The interpretation and effects of the paintings will change in an infinite number of ways depending on the political climate, for one example, and as long as the painting is allowed to be flexible it is timeless in its ability to be enjoyed and be useful.


The Enjoyment of Tragedy

There are various theories in philosophy and psychoanalysis of who enjoys tragedy and why, in thinking about Richter’s audience and their reaction it is interesting to consider these different ideas but I would not say that Richter consciously manipulated the work on account of them. In examining the experience of enjoying tragedy Monsieur Fontenelle writes,

There is such a thing as sorrow soft and agreeable: it is a pain weakened and diminished. The heart likes naturally to be moved and affected. Melancholy objects suit it, and even disastrous and sorrowful, provided they are softened by some circumstance. (Hume 1777)

In October 18 1977 one of the softening circumstances is the style of the paintings, creates a distance between the image and the viewer, the other is the length of time that passed between the events and the creation of the paintings and hence all subsequent viewings. Bunny Smedley writes that the paintings, ‘seem to convey accurately how one feels when seeing faded news photos of something that seemed catastrophic, tragic, even life-changing a decade or more before, but which now has acquired the patina of age and distance and partial disengagement.’(Smedley 2002) Perhaps that was part of the reason Richter held out for so long before the paintings were made; they would have been too raw, too upsetting, before the haze of nostalgia had started to soften the images. That is not to say that the impact of the works on account of it, Smedley continues that Richter also,

Evokes those strange totemic glimpses that remain scarred onto our public consciousnesses long after the news bulletins and cheap commentary have faded away… you could hurt yourself on their rough edges. But is that not a sign of their honesty, their sharpness, their success? (Smedley 2002)

This honesty and the use of the fact that the images have been lingering in minds, subconsciously or not, is what makes the ‘disastrous and sorrowful’ (Hume 1777) element of the work remain so forceful.

Nietzsche writes about the attraction and enjoyment of tragedy and categorises these experiences under ‘the feeling of power and the feeling or surrender’. (Nietzsche 1967b: 60) The feeling of surrender is experienced by the ‘hard, war-like, and resistant to fear and pity.’ (Bartscherer 2006: 76) It is the novelty of allowing oneself to be overcome by fear or pity for a short period of time that excites pleasure. The feeling of power is linked to Nietzsche’s abandonment of morality that I have already discussed, it is the experience of witnessing suffering but not being made miserable by it, instead being elevated and edified by the experience. This sort of audience becomes like the powerful Olympian gods in their privileged seat watching over mere mortals, or becomes like their ancient ancestors who were free to enjoy cruelty, ‘one of the oldest festive joys of mankind’ (Nietzsche 1967b: 18) without concerns of morality.

Certain explanations for the enjoyment of the sublime run parallel with the enjoyment of tragedy perhaps to the point of describing the tragedy as sublime. Burke briefly describes the sublime as, ‘whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger… or is conversant about terrible objects… it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling’. (Burke 1998: 86) We can take this definition and use it to look at how tragedy is experienced, because it does excite ideas of pain and the paintings are of terrible objects.

Schopenhauer describes the experience of taking pleasure in terror or pain as sublime and describes it as a separation of the ‘will-to-live’ (Trigg 2004: 173) from the intellect, and a conversion of the individual will to a general, human will. It is this change that allows the observer to experience the terror fearlessly because they have become disconnected from it; it is an experience of ‘going beyond our own individuality’ (Schopenhauer 1966a: 206) which coincides with ‘the sense of resignation to a force greater than oneself that gives rise to exaltation’. (Trigg 2004: 172) This echoes Nietzsche’s theories of power and surrender. Schopenhauer states that, ‘tragedy is the summit of the sublime’,(Schopenhauer 1988) arguing that tragedy represents everything that the ‘will-to-live’(Trigg 2004: 173) opposes, ‘the terrible side of life… the wailing lamentation of mankind, the dominion of chance and error, the fall of righteousness, the triumph of wicked’.(Schopenhauer 1966b: 433) When the observer overcomes their personal will to witness tragedy with pleasure, or at least without terror, they have moved their consciousness to a new level that allows them to be objective in viewing man and obtain pure knowledge. It is purity and objectivity that makes their experience sublime. That is not to say that after this experience of tragedy the observer is permanently changed in their world view or attitudes but however long the effects last the extraordinary sensations would likely remain in their memory indefinitely.

Kant defines four dispositions of character to differentiate the extent of how each one can experience the sublime; the phlegmatic, the sanguine, the choleric and the melancholic. The phlegmatic is disinterested in the world and his association with it, the sanguine is concerned with beauty, and the choleric approaches the sublime but in a superficial and weak way. However, the melancholic character is the one that in which, ‘sublimity finds its greatest expression’ (Trigg 2004:168) the crucial element of his character is described by Sontag as, ‘the self-consciousness and unforgiving relation to the self’, (Benjamin 1997: 14) and Trigg elaborates, describing a lone figure, ‘aware of his finitude and his inadequate means to compete with nature, resigns himself to passive contemplation’. (Trigg 2004: 168)

The self-consciousness that appears in the melancholic brings to mind the condition of a sort of national shame in the generation that grew up after the Second World War, which the Baader-Meinhof group experienced, and it would follow that their contemporaries would feel the impact of the tragedy of the events and the paintings the greatest. The group obviously had not resigned themselves to passive contemplation; however ten years after their deaths, apart from the next generations of terrorists, the group’s sympathisers might feel a sense of hopelessness and inadequacy in combat and contemplation may be their only option.


The Paintings

Richter’s paintings have become the most easily accessible visual record of the Baader-Meinhof group ‘time, bureaucratic policy, and the material immediacy of painting have thus conspired to make October 18, 1977 the most actual and accessible representation we have,’ (Storr 2000: 138) Since Richter had access to the police images they have been filed away and are not available to the public in any ordinary circumstances thus Richter has actually performed a service to the public than he had not anticipated and taken on a great deal of responsibility for the representation of these events which affected so many people.

Barry writes on the topic of visual imagery, ‘People not only believe what they see, but they have to be highly motivated to critically examine it.’ (Seward Barry 1997: 285) Reinforcing how little one would have to defend themselves if they were to present images in a certain way and how this method can be used to create a collective emotion in a society. However, because Richter’s paintings are presented in an art world and gallery context, they are met with a different sort of criticism and analysis than the original photographs were when they were published in newspapers at the time.

In painting the images Richter is using the medium he is most experienced in and has a vast knowledge of, this allows him to expertly use the photographic image to the maximum effect. By altering the context of the images, i.e. from a newspaper to an art gallery, he is offering them to the viewer in what is accepted as a more critical context and the fact that they are painted implies the entire history of paintings and the consideration and reverence they deserve. Observation and criticism of painting and art in general can be a way of stimulating our minds into a mode of protecting ourselves from mass media and being influenced by thoughts which are not our own against our will ‘the impatient television gobbles up all time for consideration… democracy can protect itself only by rediscovering slowness.’ (Murray and Lonborg 1984: 2-3) Art can provide the slowness and practice in patience that will encourage critical and independent thought.

The paintings were created with a technique that Richter had already mastered, a sort of photorealism that shifts the image slightly by the nature of the paint. The paint is applied as if directly copying a photograph and then scraped or smudged with a brush or squeegee, which results in the viewer knowing that they are looking at an image that they should be able to understand because of the photographic appearance but then realising there is a distance between them and the work because they cannot focus on the image. It is frustrating and it can physically hurt the eyes because of the effort of trying to focus but it means that it has caught you and made you spend time looking.

In examining how a person’s consciousness is touched by traumatic images, Lacan calls the ‘traumatic point’, (Lacan 1978: 77) which is the crucial element that creates the sense of trauma, the ‘tuché’ and Barthes refers to it as the ‘punctum’ and describing it further writes, ‘it is this element that rises out from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me’. (Barthes 1981: 26) Foster applies their theories to Richter’s paintings and proposes that it is the ‘pervasive blurring of the image’ (Foster 1996: 134) that is the punctum of his paintings.

Storr further analyses the power that Richter’s technique of blurring the images infuses into the paintings; by making the viewer strive to see the picture clearly he is encouraging a dialogue and making the viewer active.

[Richter] summons the subject by depicting its imminent disappearance. Aesthetically transferring responsibility for performing this task [of recovering the subjects] from the eyes to intellect and the emotions… painting sets the process in motion extending and guiding it in ways no photograph or text or alternative medium has done or could do. (Storr 2000: 131)

It becomes clear that the technique was as crucial for the creating the desired effect on the audience as the subject matter and the images that he chose to paint.
Conclusion

The enjoyment of tragedy is key to the appeal and success of October 18, 1977. As Richter, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer all discuss, using different terms, the enjoyment is a combination of a sensation of power and of being in an advantageous situation and a sense of surrender either to pity or to fear; both of these feelings being made possible by the slight distance from the images that the painting create to removes them just enough from reality.

Schopenhauer’s connection of tragedy with the sublime leaves the melancholic character in quiet, contemplative resignation an effect that is not Richter’s intention; he wanted to leave the viewers with a debate and aspirations for action. However, Nietzsche’s rejection of pity in favour of edification in the face of tragedy is more helpful to Richter, perhaps not to such an extreme anti-moral extent, but the idea of positive action from witnessing tragedy is important.

Richter’s brave and honest approach to discussing and working on the theme of death is the quality that enabled him to make these works; they are sad and chilling and fearlessly executed by a man who is showing people what they would deny they would want to see and encouraging them to enjoy it and learn from it. It is a philosophy of his that goes beyond these paintings into other areas of his practice; he wants people to see reality and not shy away or deny it but be able to live with it good or bad.

October 18, 1977





Youth Portrait
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
72.4 cm X 62 cm



Arrest 1
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
92 cm X 126.5 cm



Arrest 2
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
92 cm X 126.5 cm



Cell
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
201 cm X 140 cm



Confrontation 1
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
112 cm X 102 cm



Confrontation 2
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
112 cm X 102 cm



Confrontation 3
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
112 cm X 102 cm



Dead 1
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
62 cm X 73 cm



Dead 2
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
62 cm X 62 cm




Dead 3
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
35 cm X 40 cm




Funeral
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
200 cm X 320 cm



Hanged
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
201 cm X 140 cm



Man Shot Down 1
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
100.5 cm X 140.5 cm



Man Shot Down 2
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
100.5 cm X 140.5 cm



Record Player
Gerhard Richter
Oil on Canvas
1988
62 cm X 83 cm

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www.gerhard-richter.com
www.tate.org.uk
• All Images were obtained from,
www.baader-meinhof.com/essays/RichterMoMA.html.
All 15 of the original paintings in October 18, 1977 by Gerhard Richter are owned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York.