Deutsche Post published Gerhard Richter stamps in 2013. EUR1.43 stamps showing text alongside a rectangular cropped image of the artist’s 1969 square painting Seestück (Gegenlicht)/ Seascape (Contre-Jour) [GR233] were available in collectible sheets of ten. If, as the two facsimiles of the artist’s signature in the sheets’ margins would infer, the stamps constituted the largest edition the artist has ever published, the use of these stamps also amounts to the greatest act of artistic destruction Richter has ever faced. And at the hands of his own countryfolk, no less.
Thousands–tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands?–of pictures just ripped asunder, flung hither and yon, pummeled, shredded, and then dumped. Even in these trying times, the scale and apparent casualness of the obliteration shocks the conscience. The apparent readiness of the German people to trivially use then abandon the work of one who is ostensibly so revered, whose work has–had?–provided a searing beacon of objective light? Staggering.
Did the artist somehow know this was coming? Is that why he chose–presumably it was he–to use the picture depicting contre-jour, backlighting, the photographic technique of directly facing the light source–in this case, the sun–to produce heightened visual contrasts and unsettling shadows?
Fortunately, even in the face of such widespread destruction, there is hope. Faithful stewards in the collecting community are doing what they can, preserving stamps and sheets in whatever form they can: some sheets have the signatures intact; some don’t; some stamps have a signature fragment; a rare few include the commemorative envelope (also with a signature, historians); some [above] are mutilated ceremonially–canceled, they call it, with euphemism that cannot conceal the inherent pictorial sadism; and some, marred and disfigured on the field of postal battle, are rescued from oblivion by angels wielding tiny, little scissors.
These are the pictures that haunt me, the ones pulled from the very brink of doom. Theirs is the story I’ll tell; theirs is the fate we must #neverforget.
Whether it’s 50 original works or ed. 50, we’ll see when the studies arrive from Austria.
Previously, related: Robert Rauschenberg, Piece for Tropic, 1979, ed. 650,000