November 24, 2008

The World of Daniel Richter [Denver Art Museum exhibit; art review]

I have always thought it is important to alter, on a regular basis, the way we perceive reality. For that reason I meditate, climb, read, listen to music, and occasionally look at art. The latter brings me to Daniel Richter who was born in Eutin, Germany in 1962 and currently lives and works in Berlin and Hamburg. The above painting of his is titled Fatifa, a brilliantly colored and haunting depiction of the journeys of refugees from Africa to Spain. Right now through January 11 a significant collection of Richter’s paintings (including all those posted here) are on exhibit at the Denver Art Museum at his first solo exhibition in the US.

The DAM website exclaims; Richter explores themes from popular culture, politics, music, movies, comics, and history in colorful paintings that seem to leap out of the artist’s imagination and onto the canvas. His work grabs at the viewer, pushing them to confront their own feelings, insecurities, fantasies, and stereotypes about the world. “Colorful” is a definite understatement, as these paintings explode with a degree of color and texture that needs to be experienced first hand to truly appreciate. I witnessed one young couple berated by a security guard as they reached out in trance-like wonder to try and trace with their fingers the blazing neon lines of one painting. If you want to hear some of Richter’s own thought check out this interview by Style-mag.net or a Westword article that accompanied the opening of his DAM exhibition.

Much of Richter’s work struck me as unabashedly violent. The positions and awkward lolling gazes of his subjects accompanied by the neon-radioactive lighting of their bodies, gives the sense of barely sentient creatures overwhelmed by their environment. For that reason I think his paintings provide an excellent sketch of the 20th century as it spills into the 21st , as humanity is forced to deal with its expansion and environmental degradation on a scale unknown to recorded history. Briefly, Richter displays the electric-nuclear-techno-industrial world in all its ferocity, awe, and terror.

As my wife and I made the rounds of the gallery an elderly woman exclaimed in mild disgust, “what is it, I just don’t get it” before the painting entitled The Idealists. I immediately thought of all the elements the painting wove together, of how it seemed to show a comical display of inside out figures playing imaginary instruments as the world fell in a cataclysmic blaze around them.

But more than anything, beyond potential symbolism and blatant mockery, the vivid colors and textures of Richter’s imagination evoke unbridled emotion and vitality. Their is magic in the world he sees, not bound by the best or most virtuous but rather by the whole of existence. If one can walk into the gallery and allow themselves to live for a short time within the world of Daniel Richter I firmly believe they will walk away (for better or worse) with a visceral change to their equilibrium if not their perception of reality.

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