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Betty‘s Secret - Gerhard Richter in the CAIXA Cultural Brasília

Betty is wearing a red, flowery, towelling dressing gown; her blond plait is hidden inside the collar. What Betty actually looks like remains a mystery because she is turning her back on the beholder. “Betty” is the title of a painting by Gerhard Richter, based on a photograph taken in 1978.

 It tells us very little about the model, the then 10 year-old daughter of the artist, but a lot about the way pictures evolve and what we as observers want to read into them. It mirrors our imagination and confronts us with our own expectations regarding pictures, works of art, portraits. Is “Betty” a portrait at all if she is hiding her face? Or is Betty perhaps, for that very reason, rather a character study, because her turning away and thus her rejection of the artist’s decision not to show her face is precisely how he views her character.

Focus on the 1990s


Betty is not exceptional. Many of the works in the “Gerhard Richter – Sinopse” exhibition at the Caixa Cultural Brasília (until 12 June) are about interpreting pictures. In 1961, Richter fled East Germany for the West. And this theme has preoccupied him ever since. The show focuses on the 1990s, a time in which extraordinarily different works appeared at the same time or in very short succession: paintings with one layer of paint over the other in which calculated coincidence plays a decisive role in the creative process; then classic themes like floral still lifes alongside almost monochrome colour fields and pictures reminiscent of press photographs. But during this period, Gerhard Richter, who for a long time excluded private allusions from his work, also frequently dips into the family archives. A photograph of Richter’s wife Sabine, for example, inspired the “Small Bather” (“Kleine Badende” 1996), a softly-drawn picture of a naked woman with a white hat and towel.

Richter’s Overview

The Portuguese title of the show “Sinopse”, or “Overview”, refers on the one hand to a specific work presenting an overview of the names and dates of famous authors, poets, composers and architects. On the other hand, the title suggests a retrospective, and it is: Although the exhibition only comprises 27 works it manages to capture many of Gerhard Richter’s essential ideas and tendencies, including political themes. One of the artist’s most famous pictures is undoubtedly “Uncle Rudi”. It shows a young man in the uniform of the German Armed Forces, straight and smiling, posing in front of a barracks – a  picture from a family photograph album, but also a piece of German history. In short: this compact exhibition featuring some of the artist’s best works is a resounding success. Gerhard Richter chose and arranged the pictures himself, by the way.

An additional venue:

23.07.2011 — 21.08.2011

Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

São Paulo

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter, born 1932 in Dresden, is a versatile German artist (paintings, fotographies, sculptures).

Gerhard Richter's homepage

May 2011

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