Daniel Richter and the Problem of Political Painting

David Hughes

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Over the years, one question has irked critics of Daniel Richter's work more than any other: are his paintings political? For a German artist who began his professional career producing abstract-expressive pictures in 1995, it seemed particularly hard to maintain a left-wing stance while working in a medium that belonged historically to the internationalist conformism of the 1950s. His turn to figuration around 1999–2000, however, only compounded the problem: how dare he raise sensitive political issues—the war in the Balkans, mass unemployment, terrorist bombings, police drug busts, the plight of North Africans trying to reach Europe—without offering a coherent commentary on them? To make matters worse, Richter—for a supposed radical—has made quite a profit from his art while systematically avoiding a clear stance on what purportedly matters most to him. Focusing on three of Richter's best-known paintings—Warum ich kein Konservativer bin (2000), Eine Stadt namens Authen (2001), and Phienox (2000)—I explore the complexities of political painting in today's world. Through a consideration of Richter's neosymbolist style, his postmodern penchant for citation, the influence of the new fauves, and the legacy of socialist realism, I debunk many commonly held myths about leftist art and illustrate how intensely problematic such art has become.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-160
Number of pages27
JournalNew German Critique
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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