Das Erste Abstraktes Bild?

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, CR-36-b, 1964, 14 x 10 in., oil and tape (?) on panel, image via gerhard-richter.com

David Rimanelli just posted this little Gerhard Richter painting on instagram, and I swear, I cannot figure out how I’ve never noticed it before.

It is just 14 x 10 inches, 35.7 x 25.5 cm, an oil on panel—the description on Richter’s website, and the Sotheby’s lot description from 2007 both say it is oil and tape on panel, but I really do think the absence of the tape is the point here.

I’d say it’s a cabinet door, but the ring up top makes me think it could be a plaque of some kind. Anyway, it’s a grey painting now. Which is the wild part, because it’s from 1964, prime photo-based blur painting season for Richter, and years before he would begin making more such paintings. Richter famously explained he painted grey monochromes because he couldn’t figure out what—or even why—to paint anymore, not a problem he faced in 1964, presumably.

Detail from Gerhard Richter’s Bilderverzeichnis, 1969, offset print, ed. 100+20, image via mutualart

This painting also has the distinction of being the first earliest to be titled, Abstraktes Bild, Abstract Picture. But it’s not clear when that happened. This painting does not appear at all among the 265 pictures listed on Richter’s 1969 print, Inventory of Pictures. And the first pictures on the list with that title, 10 Abstrakte Bilder, CR-194 from 1968, are now called all kinds of things—also there are 24 of them. So at some point Richter worked this one back into the CR, and gave it a title that resonated forward in time.

Blinky Palermo, Untitled, 1971, 55 x 80 x 2 cm, black tape on Formica, once owned by Lothar Wolleh, sold at Sotheby’s in 2014

Whatever it was called, this Abstraktes Bild originally belonged to a friend of the artist, Dusseldorf photographer Lothar Wolleh. [It’s dedicated, “für Wolleh” on the back. Maybe “gifts” were separate from “inventory.”] Wolleh also owned the untitled 1971 painting above, by Blinky Palermo, another Richter mutual, which is a piece of black tape on a white Formica panel. In this case, the tape is definitely present.

Gerhard Richter & Blinky Palermo, Finger Painting, 1970, 200 x 200 cm, image via gerhard-richter

And of course, in 1970, Richter and Palermo each made a 2m tall fingerpainted canvas, which they joined together. [And which, I believe were later destroyed. But that’s a whole other story.]

Previously, related:
An intentionally incomplete Inventory of Pictures: Richter’s Bilderverzeichnis
Untitled (Erster Blick), 2016

[update: the German title is now correct.]