THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF GLASS:
GERHARD RICHTER'S "SIX GRAY MIRRORS"
This talk will focus on a single work by Gerhard Richter to illuminate the dynamics of the encounter in contemporary installation art. Richter’s Six Gray Mirrors (2008, DIA Collection, Beacon, NY) negotiates the two-dimensional plane, three-dimensional object, and four-dimensional time. This recent glass project will be viewed through a number of critical lenses—material, historical, biographical—and then will focus on a phenomenological reading that centers on our bodily encounter with the art object. In doing so, this talk offers a case study in how to articulate recent installation art.
Gerhard Richter, a German artist, is one of the most celebrated painters alive today. His work defies any singular signature style—he works in large series of photo-based paintings, gestural abstractions, and grey monochromes. Richter’s ongoing inquiry into the nature of painting has led him to work periodically in glass. Beginning in 1967, he began to investigate issues of framing and pictorial experience in his 4 Panes of Glass. Over the years, he has moved to stained glass windows, created mirror paintings, and then produced large-scale glass installations. Six Gray Mirrors is one of his latest manifestations that engage us bodily in a series of physical and temporal reflections. To communicate this encounter fully, I suggest that we draw on the field of phenomenology.
Phenomenology is a philosophy that studies the consciousness and the objects of direct experience. This approach examines how our awareness of our surroundings is through our body; we are literally embedded in the fabric or “flesh” of the world. This line of questioning promotes a tactile understanding of our encounter. A phenomenological reading of art is an analysis of how a work unfolds itself through the spectator’s field of perception. It is a reading that escapes standard art historical contexts—which are key to most criticism--and offers an alternative reading that may be constructively used by artists and writers alike.
This lecture may be offered as a general survey on how to critically examine contemporary art. I would broaden my approach to Richter by offering an array of approaches—beginning with visual analysis, continuing through historical frameworks, and culminating in articulating the bodily encounter with his DIA Beacon installation.