Reality vs. Representation

Through his artwork, particularly his series October 18, 1977, Gerhard Richter not only sheds light on the dichotomy between reality and representation, but also on the ways in which they influence each other. Ideally, according to Kurt, the fictionalized character representing Richter in the film Never Look Away, reality and representation should have a consistent relationship, each having an equal effect on the other. We can observe that consistency in October 18, 1977. Richter paints trauma, but obscures it through a blurring effect, creating what seems like a divide between the viewer of his paintings and the depicted members of the RAF. He emphasizes this apparent distance even more with the absence of names or details in the titles of his paintings: “Dead,” “Hanged,” “Man Shot Down,” “Funeral.” Although this obscurity may appear to create distance between the observer and the subject, as Susan Sontag may have argued, it can also bring the observer closer by humanizing those regarded as the most dangerous people in Germany at the time. When I look at the paintings of Ulrike Meinhof lying dead with her features blurred, for example, I do not see a terrorist or an activist. I see a dead woman. Richter blurs his photographic paintings to the point where only the basic figures and features are visible – the bare essences of humanity. His simplified representation of his subjects takes a careful and objective approach to the reality of their situations, thereby raising questions about why the events he depicts arose in the first place. He does not allow his viewers to immediately recognize the subject or event, so they first see the terrorists as people, then as dead people, and then wonder why they are dead. By appearing to let representation overpower reality, Richter ultimately is able to bring viewers’ attention to a different perspective on reality than they would get from looking at a photograph.