The present paper analyzes two artistic strategies employed by Gerhard Richter to deal with painful recent cultural memory. Two works in particular reveal the relative success of Richter’s varied artistic strategies addressing contemporary political events: 18. Oktober 1977 (1988) and War Cut (2004). In his series of paintings on the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, Richter effectively employs his “photopainting” style to address the profoundly disturbing deaths of the Baader-Meinhof group in the 1970s. Richter chose mundane photographic sources for his imagery, denying a hierarchy of “correct” memories of the events and turning photographic indexicality against itself by employing a painterly medium, tinged with nostalgia, to represent it. Richter’s photopaintings of Baader-Meinhof thus use the “factual” nature of the photograph while also utilizing an elegiac painterly mist through which an indistinct emotional memory of the past seems to emerge. Richter’s blurring of images can thus be understood as a fulcrum on which the undecidability of history itself must be represented. Richter constructs War Cut (2004), on the other hand, as a work and aesthetic experience decidedly at odds with the iconicity of his Baader-Meinhof images by employing arbitrariness and conceptual abstraction.
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