Gerhard Richter's cycle Birkenau from September in the Reichstag


After the exhibition in the National Gallery in Prague the Gerhard Richter's cycle of paintings Birkenau will be seen in the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The four-part cycle Březinka from 2014, reflecting the misery and horror of the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, now to be seen in the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia at the exhibition Gerhard Richter, will move after the end of the exhibition to the seat of the Bundestag in Berlin.

From World War II, the subject of representing the Holocaust in the fine arts was a matter of debate or was considered impossible. Gerhard Richter made several attempts at grasping this theme. The first time was in 1965–1967, in several hand-coloured photographs in what was a documentary collection of photographs, clippings and drawings called Atlas, the second was in 1997, when he was commissioned with an art project for the lobby of the German Bundestag, and the third time was Birkenau, a series of paintings he worked on for several months. Originally, the four large canvases were produced as photopaintings based on photographs taken in the Birkenau concentration camp by the prisoners themselves. While producing these works, however, Richter changed his methodology and reworked the initial picture using an abstract process. It was not his intention to produce an illustration of this tragic historical event, but to mediate powerful emotions that cannot always be expressed through a realistic representation without the problematic aestheticizing of war crimes. As early as 1989, in reaction to his grey monochromes, he noted that “perhaps, and surely not entirely consciously, that was the only way for me to paint concentration camps. It is impossible to paint the misery of life, except maybe in grey, to cover it.” Shades of black and white also prevail in the Birkenau series, where they are complemented by greens and reds as symbols of life and death.

From the catalog Gerhard Richter (National Gallery in Prague, 2017)

The four-part cycle of Březinka, together with the photographs taken in the concentration camp, will be personally by the artist handed over to the Reichstag on September 4, 2017.

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