One of the most important artists of the twentieth century, Gerhard Richter, has agreed to permanently loan over 100 works to a Berlin museum in order to keep them off the market. Richter said he was looking forward to “a great beginning of cooperation with Berlin.”
The loan to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which manages 27 institutions in Germany, was made in agreement with Richter’s own foundation. Hermann Parzinger, President of the SPK, remarked “Gerhard Richter’s oeuvre is unthinkable without German history. His images offer a path to many of us to come to terms with the turbulence of the 20th century.”
Richter has included his poignant ‘Birkenau’ series, painted in 2014, in the historic loan. The abstract works were based on four graphic photographs secretly taken by a Holocaust prisoner of several burning bodies at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.
Richter originally produced figurative paintings for the ‘Birkenau’ series but later decided to almost completely obscure them. Only glimpses of the underpainting can now be gleaned. “It’s not unusual for me to start from the figurative and end up with something abstract,” recalled Richter about his reworking of the pieces.
The loan will eventually go on display at the new museum for twentieth-century art in Berlin. Designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, the currently under-construction museum will house the overflow of artworks from the Neue Nationalgalerie. An entire gallery on the upper floor of the museum has been reserved for Richter’s loan.
“The four Birkenau images, which I never wanted to put on the art market, were the reason for creating a foundation,” explained Richter. “I am glad these pictures are coming to Berlin.”
Richter’s painting will continue to go on tour until the loan takes effect from 2023. ‘Birkenau’ was on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York until January 2021 and is now showing at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin until 3 October 2021.
“‘Birkenau’ will keep the memory of the Holocaust alive,” declared Joachim Jäger, Acting Director of the Neue Nationalgalerie, “combined with the question of how to deal with this exemplary crime against humanity, which must always be answered anew.”