German visual artist Gerhard Richter has agreed to loan more than 100 of his works - including an artistic response to the Holocaust, which he had originally pledged never to sell - to a new museum of modern art to be built next to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
The permanent loan is to take effect from 2023 and includes works from the full breadth of Richter’s career, ranging from his early works to more recent, abstract pieces.
Encompassed within the collection are Richter’s Birkenau paintings, a four piece-series addressing the Holocaust which was previously on display in the German Bundestag. The newly-established Gerhard Richter Art Foundation will sign a cooperation agreement with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin’s museums and cultural organisations, a press statement detailed.
“The four Birkenau images, which I never wanted to put on the art market, were the reason for creating a foundation,” Richter said. “I am glad these pictures are coming to Berlin.”
The inspiration for the series, created in 2014, is rooted in photographs of burning corpses captured secretly by a Jewish prisoner of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp in 1944.
“I began to transfer these images to canvas, and realised that it wasn’t working at all,” Richter said. “So I scraped it off and painted again until I had four abstract images. It’s not unusual for me to start from the figurative and end up with something abstract.”
The series will initially be displayed in the Alte Nationalgalerie on Berlin's Museum Island, and then moved to the Neue Nationalgalerie, a modern art museum showcasing the likes of Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky. Finally, following the completion of the new Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum of the 20th Century) next door, the works will be permanently housed in a dedicated Richter room.
Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie, the current home of the Birkenau cycle. Photo: noxoss via Pixabay
Richter is widely regarded as one of the most prominent contemporary German artists, with his works renowned for reaching record-shattering auction prices. As an artist, Richter aims to represent the world around us, drawing on human experience. “His images offer a path to many of us to come to terms with the turbulence of the 20th century,” said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
Birkenau is on display in Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie until 3 October. Find out more about the series in this video by Deutsche Welle: