The recent VCS-sponsored lecture by art historian Karen Lang is now up in the Visual & Critical Studies section of SVA’s iTunes U page.
During the lecture, Lang presented some of her own research on contemporary painter Gerhard Richter and his interest in the works of 19th-century Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Having done a close reading of Richter’s writings, Lang believes that a lot of current and past scholarship on Richter’s art neglects his self-professed debt to art history in general, and to Friedrich in particular.
Throughout her talk, Lang showed images of paintings by both artists, and described ways in which many elements of visual ambiguity apparent in Friedrich’s paintings are mirrored either formally or conceptually in Richter’s. She tied this to Richter’s statements about his desire to keep painting open-ended, and his claim that all painting is always contemporary, even when its subject matter isn’t. The challenge for artists lies in preventing traditions and conventions from turning painting into a dead, stagnant thing, while remaining aware of how those traditions have dictated the basic terms for what painting is or can become.
Lang also spoke of the numerous references to Friedrich Nietzsche in Richter’s writings, and proposed that interpreting Nietzsche’s nihilism as both a positive/constructive and negative/destructive force can help us understand the different ways in which Richter both respects and dismisses traditions of painting in his own works.
During the subsequent question-and-answer session, a few audience members raised points that brought out some of the more subtle nuances in Lang’s presentation. In particular, the tricky role Nietzsche plays in Lang’s arguments—that of both illuminator of Richter’s relationship to Friedrich and obstacle in the way of comparing the two directly—got a lot of discussion.
Before the lecture, Brian Glaser, Managing Editor at SVA’s Office of Communication, recruited VCS student Berny Tan to cover the lecture for Visual Arts Briefs. Her piece not only discusses some of the issues I’ve mentioned above, but also conveys her own impressions of the event, and her thoughts on what some of Lang’s broader statements about artmaking and art history mean for art students and emerging artists. It’s well worth checking out if you’re interested in seeing a student’s perspective on the event. (Berny’s article–shown in the screenshot below–can be found at this link).