As its title suggests, this exhibition in Potsdam’s recently reconstructed 18th-century palace showcases Gerhard Richter’s abstract works. On display at Museum Barberini are more than 90 paintings, collage, prints and sculptures by the auction record-setting German artist (in 2015 his painting Abstraktes Bild sold in London for over €38 million). Spanning 1963 to 2017, the works are a mix of rarely seen pieces loaned from private collections, public collection loans and new unseen works.
Upon entering the exhibition the larger than life 1024 colours , 1973 radiates across the room – an example of one of Richter’s paintings of grids of coloured squares or rectangles, a series he produced in the 1960s and 1970s, by using primary colours as a starting point for randomly mixing and allocating multiple colours, then painted into a grid on canvas.
Some of the earlier works on display play at the edges of abstraction with paintings like Curtain, 1964 showing an abstracted, but photo-realistically painted, section of a grey curtain. One of the sculptural highlights is the enormous 7 Panes of Glass (House of Cards)  2013/2016. Here, large glass panes lean against one another, simultaneously solid and fragile. Natural daylight falls on the sculpture’s four sides creating reflections and shadows that constantly conjure new and engaging compositions, linear grids and illusions across the room.
Breaking from the slightly overwhelming grey of the exhibition’s earlier rooms is the exploding colour of the on-going series of paintings titled Abstract Paintings. The earlier works in the series are based on enlarged photographed patterns of paint recreated on the canvas, Richter often adding a blurring, soft out-of-focus effect. In the exhibition text we are told that it was in these works that he first started using a squeegee to “paint” with spreading and applying paint mainly based on chance, letting go of control – a method Richter often applies in his work. A rather quiet and shy 86-year-old Richter stated at the exhibition opening, “Abstraction sounds very scientific, I don’t agree or see it that way.” The richness and materiality of paint in the series, with its scratches, scruffs, cracks, and deep fissures is absolutely striking and absorbing and adds a third dimension to the works.
The elaborate security arrangements in the galleries are a reminder that Richter was once declared the “Picasso of the 21st century”, however this show elegantly avoids being another blockbuster retrospective. Richter is known for both his abstract and photo-realist paintings, but you don’t feel you’re missing out on half his career here.
The opportunity to see new works and privately held ones overrides this and gives the exhibition a unique twist, allowing new insights and connections for enthusiasts and curious alike. The hefty booklet that accompanies it is a little dense, but if you have the time, the show gives insight into a living legend that goes just deep enough.
Gerhard Richter. Abstraction Jun 30-Oct 21 | Museum Barberini, Potsdam