October 18, 1977


The paintings in Gerhard Richter’s Baader-Meinhof series do not have the answers to what happened in Stannheim prison on October 18, 1977. They do not have the answers to any questions about who is at fault in this or any other public crisis. They do not ask us to condemn or to forgive. They do not defend any particular political perspective, either that of the prisoners or that of the society that imprisoned them. They do not invite us to take action, and they do not offer us emotional catharsis: in this respect, they are neither Brechtian nor Aristotelian. They are not cheap theater. They are not, I would argue, any kind of theater at all, and their relationship to spectacle has been invoked only to be quelled. They are not about voyeurism, and they do not really care what is happening to the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. They do not even represent the artist’s viewpoint, because viewpoint itself is one of the things they are questioning. They ask us to stand in front of them and contemplate what we think, what we feel, even as they quietly cut the ground out from under us. It is not a comfortable situation to be put in—it may even be “horrific,” as Richter said—but it is necessary, and truthful, and in that sense redeeming.

more from Wendy Lesser at Threepenny Review here.