It’s a good thing the camera keeps a respectful—even wary—distance from German artist Gerhard Richter in this mesmerizing, near-experimental profile—because things aren’t going so well. Outside his echoey studio, birds are chirping, yet the two oil works he’s laboring on are disasters: explosions of garish color that would embarrass an amateur. Pushing the paint around with a giant scraper (it looks more like a bookshelf than a brush), Richter fills the air with an awful, tearing noise. He seems pissed off, and surly comments to filmmaker Corinna Belz confirm as much. The guy’s a master, but he has his off days.
This is the kind of sequence that makes Gerhard Richter Painting, an unusually po-faced profile of the artistic process, valuable. You won’t learn a lot about the 80-year-old’s storied career, his controversial Baader-Meinhof terrorist series from the 1980s, his contribution to the cover of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. But you will see the man toiling and revising—killing off half-good ideas, struggling for clarity—and it’s a routine well worth demystifying. Marian Goodman, Richter’s longtime New York gallerist, shows up briefly to observe the progress and recount how, when they first met, little was said. No surprise there. The film is made in the same spirit; let its reticence do the talking.
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