Visualization of reality from abstract art: Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild to be offered at Poly Auction HK

Among the world’s leading contemporary artists, Gerhard Richter is at the top of the list in terms of status, fame and net worth. He stepped into the field of abstract art around the 1960s and has already made a name for himself with his distinctive style in the 1980s.  

His works created between 1986 and 1992 are considered the most finely executed and are highly prized by collectors. Eight of his top ten most expensive works were completed during this period, including the Abstraktes Bild (649-2) which fetched US$27.61 million in 2020, an auction record for the most expensive Western art sold in Asia at the time.

This Spring, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (607-2), a work created during his peak year in 1986, will go under the hammer at Poly Auction Hong Kong with an estimate between US$2.3 and 3.6 million. On the occasion, let us dive into how Richter uses his signature squeegee technique to uncover the underlying reality.

Lot 139 | Gerhard Richter | Abstraktes Bild (607-2), Oil on canvas
Painted in 1986
70.3 x 100.2 cm

  • Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, USA
  • Vivian Horan Fine Art, New York, USA
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby's New York, 11 November 1993, Lot 162
  • Private Collection, Houston, USA
  • Christie's New York, 17 May 2007, Lot 181
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's New York, 11 May 2011, Lot 66
  • Christie's London, 11 February 2015, Lot 47
  • Private Collection

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 - 28,000,000 (US$2.3 - 3.6 million)

Auction House: Poly Auction Hong Kong
Sale: Modern and Contemporary Art
Date and Time: 6 April | 10:00 am (Hong Kong Local Time)
Venue: Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

Walking from photo-realism to abstraction, Richter remains one of the top living contemporary artists. Occupying an unshakable position in the history of art, Richter's works have been collected by more than 130 museums and public instituitions worldwide. At auctions, one of the works in his Abstraktes Bild series sold for a record-shattering price of US$46.3 million in 2015, making him once the most expensive living artist. 

With over 60 years of creative career, he constantly seeks breakthroughs, exploring the boundaries of artistic vocabularies through painting, photography and installation.

He once said, “Abstract paintings are like fictitious models because they visualize a reality which we can neither see nor describe but which we nevertheless conclude exists,...[But] with abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can neither be seen nor understood because abstract painting illustrates with the greatest clarity.” 

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter invented the squeegee method

His creative and original "squeegee technique" is an important innovation in the history of painting, as he broke free from the constraints of traditional brush tools, thus opening a new historical chapter for post-war abstract painting. He uses a squeegee to wipe off the paint on the canvas, which blurs the outline of the painting and exposes different layers of paint.

Looking back at Richter's career, the first work named as Abstraktes Bild was created in 1964. In the 60s and 70s, Richter was still in the exploration stage of abstract art, with his abstract paintings based on photography and realistic images, and mostly in gray tones.

In the 1980s, Richter's squeegee technique has increasingly matured and become the main technique in his work. He began to break free from the basis of photography or realistic images.

Krems (606-4)

The Abstraktes Bild (607-2) up for auction this season was created in 1986, painted in sharp red, yellow, green and blue, which are also the most classic colours used in his abstract paintings during this period.

In his previous work Krems (606-4), Richter applied oil paint on top of a realistic background and covered it with brushwork. On the other hand, in Abstraktes Bild (607-2), he used the classic squeegee to present the background, added powerful brushstrokes, and used “knife marks” to reveal the underlying paint.

These two works present the transition from photo-realism to abstract painting, perfectly interpreting his artistic concept of revealing the truth of the nature of things through painting.

Abstraktes Bild (599) was sold at a record-breaking price of US$46.3 million in 2015

Year 1986 was the peak year for Richter’s creative career. In additional to his maturity in the squeegee technique, he held solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, then toured Berlin, Bern and Vienna, which earned him recognization as one of the most important artists of his time in academic circles.

The majority of Richter’s top ten auction records came from the period between 1986 and 1990, including the record-setting Abstraktes Bild (599) mentioned above.  

This season, Abstraktes Bild (607-2) offered at Poly Auction Hong Kong was also created in year 1986, which is a rare creation that integrates traditional brushstrokes, scratchy lines and the squeegee technique, showcasing all of Richter’s abstract techniques.