Divided Memory and Post-Traditional Identity?

Divided Memory and Post-Traditional Identity?

This article is a bit hard going in parts. Here are some thoughts—-though Mia is our guru!

1. What are the influences on Richter’s work following the war? What does the author mean when he refers to the “larger process of personal anamnesis?”
2. Do you agree with Buchloh’s analysis of “Uncle Rudi?” Are these categories of art obsolete?
3. Do all portrait busts have the aura of the hero/leader or only those emanating from a totalitarian arena?
4. Does photography issue the death knell to the portrait?
5. In what ways does Richter’s Self-Portrait “re-position” the artist? How does he become the new historian, as it were?
6. Does the author’s contextualization of Richter’s 48 Portraits explain/justify his exclusions in that assembly? Calling Dr. Freud?
7. Discuss Richter’s “48 Portraits” in relation to Warhol’s “13 Most Wanted Men.”
8. Do you agree with Buchloh’s concluding statement, that the puppet-like, mechanical repetition of the figures ultimately dismantles the pantheon’s credibility?


16 responses

  1. Hello all!! I apologize for the extremely late post; I was experiencing some serious technical difficulties.
    Whew!! This article has much to unpack! Thank you Dr. Sadler for beginning that breakdown. In addition to what she’s posted, here are some food for thought for you all to consider. In keeping with our month-long tradition, Thursday will be a discussion-based presentation. 🙂
    1.Consider the opening quote from Russell Berman:
    “Thus the genius reappears as the fascist leader, the contemplative recipient becomes the manipulated following, and beauty, once reserved for the autonomous work, is projected onto the battlefield. Fascism, as the aestheticization of politics, is therefore specifically modernist insofar as it participates in the demontage of autonomy aesthetics, but it preserves the substance of an earlier bourgeois culture, just as it preserves bourgeois property relations, by restructuring domination as an aesthetic object.” On page 64, Buchloh argues that photography places, frames and presents historical subjects in such a way that surpasses the limitations of painting. He then states that “it is in the photograph that the ‘banality of evil’ finds its concretization.” What ‘banality of evil’ is he referring to? How does this relate to the role of the gaze and portraiture functioning as documentation?

    2.How do Richter’s self-portrait busts function within this context of constructing a post-traditional identity? Do they serve as tokens of power or status?

    3.Does the author lend photography too much credit in the destruction of bourgeois traditions? Any sense of vendetta?

    4.The author claims that Richter’s hybrid of sculpture and portraiture (based on photographs) in his busts demonstrate a loss of commemorative function and the destruction of subjectivity. (page 68) Is there any truth to this? How does this match up with Buchloh’s later claim that the reproduction of photographs reintroduces subjectivity in the portrait?

    5.In what way is the artist repositioned as the “socially exceptional” individual? What can we deduce from this article about the artist’s role as commemorator of society, especially in creating portraiture?

    6.To create his “ideal republic of knowledge,” i.e. 48 Portraits, Richter excludes several groups, including women, artists, Marxist, Fascist and Socialist republicans, non-Westerners, and minorities. Buchloh claims that Richter’s selections/exclusions are to help him construct a post-traditional identity and are reflective of individual and historical trauma from Fascist Germany’s history. Is this plausible? Discuss.

    7.How does this article tie in to what we’ve already read about the gaze, about functions of portraiture, of portraits as indicators of power and status?

  2. Richter is a very interesting artist and I really like his use of the two sculptures as a commentary on photography as well a “the loss of a Fuhrer.” I also feel that yes, Buchloh does have some sort of animosity towards photography, especially when he says it, “initiated the disappearance of the portrait, as it also rang the death knell of the monument.”68 I agree with Buchloh in that Richter got himself into a little trouble when he said that the portraits he chose for his “48 Portraits” were chosen at random, since there was obviously some sort of arbitrary choice in some of his selections!

  3. I have to agree with you all that this was a really dense article at points. However, I was really intrigued with the conception of death masks that Buchloh mentions on page 65. It reminded me very much of the death masks that we looked at in Ancient Art and Architecture. What struck me about this article was that these portrait faces in plaster as death masks convey a similar morbidity and statement about the shortness of life, that we saw in my article with the Vanitas still-life paintings. I can’t wait to unpack this article in class tomorrow! I hope we can talk about the audience reception of Richter’s works in contrast to “traditional portraiture”.

    – Jess

  4. I also would like to discuss viewers’ reception of Richter’s portrait hybrids. There is quite a sense of morbidity in all his portraiture, even in his series 48 Portraits–although in that case, using encyclopedia photographs as source material may have influenced relative “liveliness.”
    Richter’s process of translating his images back and forth between media (photograph to paint/sculpture back to photography) also fascinates me. Is he taking advantage of the camera’s uncanny ability to embody the ‘occasionality’ of a portrait (literal snapshots of a setting and a subject/sitter) to make a statement about portraiture, in general? Is he merely showing off his skills as an artist? Does this speak towards the fact that memory is fallible and vulnerable to being tampered with?

  5. Wow! Just to echo what has already been said, this was a particularly dense article, though, as Professor Sadler pointed out, it is worth the time and energy. I did find that Buchloh seems to have a “Vendetta” of sorts against photography. Whereas this was more easily (though still problematically) understood in the Mme. de Pompadour article, there is a similar feeling in both. Though well argued, I found myself doubting his opinions, particularly in relation to photography and its, as Sarah quoted ” death knell” like qualities. Though, certainly, photography has changed the face of art, it has not replaced it by any means.

    We have, in previous classes, discussed seeming “themes” of art history. The theme of Vanitas and momento moris has been especially prevalent in our readings and I wonder why? This in understandable in the early stages of this kind of portrait, however, why has this theme stayed so constant?

    I really look forward to talking about this and hearing from everyone! See you bright and early. 🙂

    • While dense and even quite difficult at times, this article indeed raised some interesting points. I particularly was struck by the contents of page 64, in which the author discusses Richter’s portrait of his Nazi uncle from 1965– what intrigued me the most was simply the idea of representing the “unrepresentable subject of history.” In class we have talked about making the absent present through portraiture, but what about portraits of “bad people?” I certainly do not think we want to make Hitler and his Nazi pals (or others of that ilk) “present,” but I do think we might want to make history present? If that makes sense? (it’s quite late, so it is possible that I am incoherent!) I would be interested in talking about this more in class (even after this article presentation is over).

      See you all in the morning!!


  6. Great article! Loved this one. I think the 48 Portraits idea is so intriguing, and yes, I think we need to call Dr. Freud. I had never really thought about the loss of the father/Fuhrer of Germany and the sense of loss felt by Hitler’s followers. (seems so strange to think of it that way!) Artists play such a key role in commemorating historic events, and I’m sure it must be very difficult to find a way to commemorate tragic events in a meaningful but sensitive way. I’m thinking of the initial backlash against Maya Lin’s design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. I also understand the rush to change courses in artistic expression and run to abstract expressionism as a way to focus on the individual after Hitler’s nationalistic reign of terror. I disagree with the author and do not believe that the pantheon’s credibility is dismantled. In fact, I think the repetition and cinematographic movements add to its credibility. I love the way the portraits were arranged so that the head positions rotated from left profile to center to right profile. Genius! …”those very traditions of enforcing obedience and collective submission for which German culture was infamous.” And how about the fact that all of those eyes are watching you back! This is exactly what was going on during Hitler’s regime! We also know that repetition in art works! One last comment – I was fascinated by the concept of “historically charged architecture.” Is there another time or place in history that even comes close to what Hitler built?? I’m trying to think of other examples and I’m coming up empty??

    • Don’t get me started on the power of architecture! Every time a Baptist or Methodist or whatever church dusts off the Doric or Ionic order and builds in that style, that church is counting on the latter to invoke the weight, venerability, and authority of antiquity to reinforce the superiority of its creed! Indeed, when the Colosseum used the classical orders as decoration, or the Medici-Riccardi Palazzo in Florence did the same thing—-the architects of both were relying on the power of the sign!
      I am so glad you liked this article and appreciated the rotating gaze in 48 Portraits (especially in contrast to the profile and frontal mugshots that Warhol used in his 13 Criminals!). Germany provides such an interesting case study because propaganda was so much a part of its artistic heritage—-even in the example of two busts being exhibited in a dialogic relationship vs. Hitler’s portraits, which were only exhibited one at a time so as not to diminish his power. What did you think about the stylistic choices made by Richter in light of his place in German post-war art history?

  7. I found this article to be very engaging! I have never studied Richter’s earlier works in depth and I think postwar art and artists, specifically coming from Germany have a lot of interesting (and very political/historical) subject matter to address. Buchloh’s discussion of “48 Portraits” addresses the artist’s claim to have chosen the photographs by chance. Like Duchamp’s readymades the act of chance in the artist’s selection of an object, or in Richter’s case, a specific photograph is paradoxical. It is clear that Richter had specific ideas behind the public figures he chose to select. I thought it was an interesting point that if Richter’s “Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo” placed the artist in role as historian and “Fascist hero” then “48 Portraits” was purposefully doing the opposite by choosing to eliminate all artists. I wish Buchloh would have addressed the sexism behind Richter’s choice in public figures a little bit more. However, if one is to argue that Warhol’s “Thirteen Most Wanted Men” was his primary inspiration for the installation then perhaps we are over thinking the issue of gender? I’m not sold on this though. We also cannot ignore the overwhelming Eurocentrism in the piece!

    • I agree—-I think Buchloh was whitewashing the whole exclusion issue in “48 portraits”—-and I don’t think one should ever stop playing the gender card. Without too much, there cannot be enough (Lawrence Stern said that and I agree!). Warhol’s 13 criminals may have been all male, but let’s hear it for Mme. Curie! I cannot wait for our discussion of this article.

  8. I have not studied much of Gerhard Richter before this, and I find his work to be fascinating! As I looked more into the “48 portraits,” I found them to be very interesting, especially as the way we think of them today changes since the men depicted in the paintings are not all notable, are all white, and now are all deceased. “By confining the status of the depicted figures to an attainable level of accomplishment, Richter avoided confronting the viewer (and himself) with the problematic situation of selecting them only according to their world-historical importance or their undemocratic stigma of genius.” Also, it took me longer than I would like to admit that the originals were drawings. Then it was very cool to see that he created photographs of the drawings to re-present them in a different medium and in a way it addressed the ideas of photography and portraiture and what photography means for paintings and how it can change them.

    I found “Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo” to be a really unique way to deal with ideas of identity in the aftermath of World War II and what it means to be a German citizen in this time, especially when thinking about the tension that rises between East and West Germany. His work is very focused on Europe and German identity especially, so it makes sense why there are depictions of these white men who have historically been in control through hegemonic forces. Even if the particular people who are depicted in “48 Portraits” are not particularly notable in history, their presence as a white male gives them more power than most other humans. Regardless, “Two Sculptures” is not focussing on race, but on the ideas of national identity for a country that faced extreme difficulty with the idea of a strong national identity throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This leads to a somewhat bleak scene as the death mask busts suspend in a mustard yellow room that is designed in NeoClassical designs. Busts created in this way, a death mask and depicting only the head, nothing more, seem to strongly reference totalitarian rule and powerful leaders, but that just might be because the only death mask I have seen live was that of Napoleon Bonaparte, so that is what I think of first. Because of the context of the busts, these heads definitely feel very connected to the ideas of totalitarian rule, but I do not think all busts necessarily must be connected to a ruler or a place of power.

    • Can we talk about “talking heads?” Heads as the center of human agency, head vs. heart, head as locus of power, heads as divorced from bodies, heads in 2 dimensions vs. 3 dimensions? Could “48 Portraits” only originate on German soil at the historical moment that it was created?

  9. I find that “Uncle Rudy” is striking due to its distortion and color. One can look at the work of art and can determine the subject and what e is wearing, but cannot determine the background. I think that not being to identify the background is due his personal history. Buchloh commented on how Richter focuses on dichotomies. The dichotomy regarding location is the change of National socialism to Stalinist socialist realism. The work of art is based on a photograph which is very realistic. However, the figure and background is distorted representing a sort of conflict that occurs between both time periods.

    Regarding the death sentence for portrait painting, in this case I don’t think that photography called the downfall to portrait painting. However, I do not know if this is a portrait or not. The work is of a full figured male individual. There is an acknowledgeable background. Since it is difficult to define what a portrait is, I don’t know if the distortedness of the subject and the background causes for it not to be defined as being a portrait.

    • The latter part of your comment would imply that you do not believe that there can be portraits rendered in say an abstract expressionist style, yet there are a number of examples in this style. Distortion is a part of vision in a way, no? Let’s talk more about this!

  10. 4. Photography does serve as a death knell to portraiture in that despite the two medium’s subjectivity, photography is regarded as more reliable than the portrait. Photography, although it is just as constructed as a portrait, gains its credibility from its ability to capture details with accuracy. In theory, it is incapable of idealizing the subject and is therefore a more objective source of historical accuracy.

    • It certainly would seem that photography is the more objective medium however many scholars (and photographers!) would disagree. The camera is just a vehicle for the artist’s vision and the sitter’s pose–I am increasingly aware of how negotiable all of those ingredients are!

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