Sunday, 4 December 2011

Gerhard Richter – Panorama : Tate Modern, London

Update: 20th December, 2011

Further to my original post, Tate Modern arranged for an after hours access visit to the exhibition on 18th December, 2011.  This was led by Marcus Dickey Horley of Tate Modern and we had the exhibition to ourselves for well over 2 hours.  Marcus personally greeted everyone and met and made sure departures went smoothly. 

Galleries often have to host corporate events in the evening, so it’s very much to the credit of people like Marcus at Tate Modern who arranges these events so that there is a complete hassle free access to what is a stunning exhibition.  I found out on reflection that by about Room 5/6 one can get a bit of an overload as one progressed through the exhibition and the crowds.

In addition to myself, there was one other visually impaired person, two wheelchair users and another disabled person.  Including carers, chaperons, etc there were around 12 people in total.

Group gathers around Candle (Kerze) with Marcus talking about the painting.

Marcus was able to tell us about the meticulous planning that went into the exhibition, down to fridge magnet models for the paintings and glass pieces.  The assembling of the exhibits was also taken with great care regarding lighting, context and positioning of the very large paintings with some of the smaller ones. 

One of the amazing aspects of Richter’s work is that he continued to paint in a photographic way while experimenting with other abstract art and the use of glass, mirrors in providing some dynamic or even kinetic image on passing by.  This was something I hadn’t appreciated at the time though I did note some of the visual effects his artwork had.  It was also interesting to hear other peoples’ views and how they perceived such artwork.  Various names such as Richard Hamilton and Duschamp and Corbusier were mentioned as the various exhibits were discussed. 

In the room where Richter’s Number 4096 is displayed, there are two large panes of glass in the centre of the room and as we moved around the room, one of the participants was able to give a description of what he saw as he looked between the two panes of glass.  I also discovered that my encounter with the ventilation grills (cane) in front of Silicate may have been intentional as there are covers over many of the ventilation grills and it may well have been planned that this painting was placed above the ventilation grills as a reflection; reflections are a theme of Richter’s works in painting, seascapes and horizon lines, so this may well have been intentional, though I doubt if they considered some visually impaired person hitting the grill with a cane, as the image does have a jarring effect on my peripheral vision. 

Professor Whitestick using a festive cane to demonstrate ventilation grill symmetry on Silicate.  Marcus to the right.

Marcus also told and elaborated on the story of the mystery movements of some of the glass panes and the steel ball (Kugel), that inevitably gets ‘kicked’ around the exhibition!  One of the rooms had many paintings to do with the Bader Meinhof terror attacks in West Germany in the 1970s, while the final room is referred to as the cage, though it has nothing to do with being in a cage or with Max Weber.  It is, in fact, a tribute to John Cage, who wrote a piece of music which has a prescribed piece of silence (4 minutes 33 seconds).

This was a very informal gathering and my thanks again to Marcus for arranging such events so that we’re able to share our own experiences as each of us have slightly different accessibility requirements.  We continued our discussion at the end, when our group sat and chatted about access to the arts, retail and travel. 

Many thanks again to Marcus and Tate Modern for showing us around and also for taking us ‘back stage’ on a touch tour of the turbine hall walls to the parking area.   Marcus can be contacted by phone on 07733-110-244  or by email

end of update

Tate Modern is located in the old Bankside Power Station and the building has been adapted to form gallery space including use of the turbine hall.  I have been in “working” turbine halls in Cruachan (hydro), Chapelcross (nuclear) and many thermal power/desalination plants.  These spaces are cavernous, as your ears soon detect.  I had been to Tate Modern before with a friend about 8 years ago and enjoyed the visit.  Recently, I have been aware of Tate Modern on travelling on the Thames Clipper and crossing the Blackfriars Bridge by train.  So last week when another friend suggested we go to the Gerhard Richter exhibition currently on, I agreed.  We went via the Southwark Underground station and I may try to do this journey on my own next time by counting the railway arches overhead!

On arriving, I was pleasantly surprised when Emiliana at the desk asked if I could make use of the touch screen audio tour.  I tried it and although I could not navigate the screen, Emiliana gave me details of facilities should I return on my own.  This was a kind gesture as we had not sought any particular assistance.  My friend had been twice before to the exhibition and is used to reading out captions and describing items which I obviously miss and listening to images which I perceive.  We must have spent 2 hours going round the exhibition. 

Richter used a variety of techniques in his art, so a lot of the early paintings seem like photographs, some appear as figures and many are totally abstract.  Quite a few are very large scale and as my friend was reading a long caption I got ‘lost’ in the painting itself, so to speak.

Gerhard Richter was born in Germany in the 1930s and there are themes such as World War 2, Bombing of Dresden and Cologne, East/West German Angst as well as other topics.   The following are notes my friend scribbled down on a piece of paper and rewrote as we were having lunch in the Friends’/Members’ Room.

Mustang Squadron:  I can make out the line of planes with a titled horizon and what appear to be fields below.

Tote – the dead: my friend has written this with an intrusive ‘r’, making it torte.  I could make out a block (could be ice, could be cheese; turned out to be masonry) with something underneath.  A pair of feet indicate it’s a body which has been crushed by masonry from a bomb.  (I note a connection with the artwork of John Issacs at the Wellcome Collection.)

Tisch: there are two figurative artworks – tisch (table) and stuhl (chair).  These remind me of the Hammershoi painting which was described in the National Gallery in October.  To some extent, this is an ‘interior’ genre and I recognised this type of painting in some of Anton Henning’s work. 

Grey beams (grauestrahlen): we had some problem in reconciling the title.  I thought my friend said ‘green beans’ and he himself thought the beam implied an architectural feature!  On a bit of catechesis, I said that the German title had to do with rays of light and we both realised the work referred to beams of light.  This reminded me of a test for the visual field where one’s vision is checked using a device where you have to indicate when you note something appear on the screen.  It’s like playing Space Invaders in a darkened room! 

Himalya: we had some fun with this one, as it’s a monochrome work with irregular shapes.  While on second study it could be a mountainscape, my first thought was of a lady with a wide rim hat and long black hair standing in profile against a snow-covered hill.  Given my loss of central vision and reliance on peripheral vision, this is like a gestalt moment for the brain and I still have a vision of Jenny Agutter playing the soppy role in The Railway Children.  When I mention it to other people they agree with me. 

Alps II: more mountain work

This is an absolutely stunning piece of art and somehow links, in my mind, to the human genome, which again is described in the Wellcome Collection.  Richter has taken 1024 and used four types of paint to produce an entrancing painting.  Geometric shapes at a distance still stand out and it reminded me of one of the tapestries which had been woven at the Dovecot Gallery in Edinburgh.    You can get posters of the painting in the Tate bookshop. 

Grey streaks

Juni (June): this is an abstract painting with some red colour similar to that used in Richter’s version of a Titian painting of the Annunciation.  (I made a joke about the pronunciation of Titian and the painting entitled Tisch, but it went over the head of my friend though allowed me to remember both the abstract painting June and Richter’s version of the Annunciation.  I am reliably informed that this is an example of building a schema.)

Room 12 of the gallery has a space entitled “The limits of vision”.  Two paintings in particular were noted by me: Silicate Silikat, which provide some visual exercise for both those with or without sight loss.  One in particular had an extra feature for me as it was located above a ventilation grill.  Many of the paintings have a security cordon and my cane was able to make contact with the ventilation grill below Silikat, which added to the slight unnerving image which my peripheral vision picked up.  This was an unintended touch tour!

The above notes were collated after having been through the eyes, ears and hands of several people.  I am going back to this exhibition by kind invitation of Tate Modern and will endeavour to report back any other notes that I make.  I think I ought to invest in a decent digital recorder, but one still has the problem of tagging the notes to the right painting.  This is a working post and will be revised over the next few weeks.  I’ve tried to make links to both Tate Modern and to some of the images which are available on Gerhard Richter’s website:  The exhibition runs till 8th January 2012.

Many thanks to Emiliana and my friend who took me and wrote down my comments and observations for posterity!