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Gagosian Premieres

The seventh episode of Gagosian Premieres celebrates Gerhard Richter: Cage Paintings—an exhibition presented at Gagosian New York and Beverly Hills—with a musical performance and reading by Patti Smith, new choreography created and performed by Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener in response to the artist’s work, and commentaries by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Richard Calvocoressi.

Throughout his career, Richter has approached abstraction with characteristic rigor, employing varying combinations of process and chance to produce works that range from austere monochromes to richly chromatic compositions. The six large-scale Cage paintings (2006) are made by using a broad squeegee to drag paint from one side of the canvas to the other. They are titled after influential composer, artist, and philosopher John Cage (1912–1992), whose pursuit of indeterminacy in music—reflected in his use of chance operations as compositional tools—resonates with Richter, who has compared his own process to the act of arranging a score.

In a special performance filmed at the gallery in New York, Patti Smith—accompanied by guitarist Tony Shanahan—sings “Wing” from her 1996 album Gone Again; she also expresses her admiration for Richter and the inherent musicality of his works in spoken reflections on the exhibition, and reads excerpts from Cage’s text “Lecture on Nothing” (1959), in which the composer describes his move toward a more experimental methodology.

Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, who previously worked together in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, perform their own new choreography in the exhibition space, tracing the connections between Richter, Cage, and Cunningham. The pair, whose collaborative work addresses the ways in which abstraction and representation coincide in the body, dance to “Experiences No. 2” (1948) by Cage, which was composed using the rhythmic structure of a dance by Cunningham. This work is choreographed in relation to the context and will never be performed again.

In his commentary on the exhibition, art historian and Gagosian director Richard Calvocoressi discusses the Cage paintings’ formal qualities, explaining how Richter’s use of the squeegee reveals layers of color in a way that evokes, among many other areas of visual perception, the fragmented imagery of torn billboard posters. He also talks about their connection to the drawings on view—specifically to their dependence on erasure—and the essential mystery of Richter’s project as a whole.

Finally, Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of the Serpentine Galleries, London, describes how Richter’s paintings and drawings take different routes to achieve formal multidimensionality. He remembers his initial encounter with the Cage paintings at the artist’s studio in 2007 as being like witnessing “an apparition.” “It was immediately clear to me,” he recalls, “that this was one of the greatest cycles of paintings that Gerhard had ever done.”

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