Work DocumENT: Grey
In developing the essay “Blurring Richter,” I focused on Richter’s use of
the blur, and found that it would be too cumbersome for the essay to also
contain considerations of his use of grey. I merely noted that “in Richter’s
early work grey provides a note of negation and indeterminacy: ‘I have
a special relationship with grey. Grey, to me, was absence of opinion,
nothing, neither/nor.’ And, ‘To me, grey is the welcome and only possible
equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence
of shape.’”1
Richter’s use of grey is valued because it is seen as the emblematic color
of an anti-ideological position, which would nevertheless be valorized as
moral in the light of the ideologies that had turned Richter against ideolo-
gies: fascism and Soviet totalitarianism. Rob Storr writes,
At one level then, gray is a symbolic mid-term in a context where
many are prone to seeing things in black and white. The keynote of an
anti-rhetorical style, it not only distinguishes his work from the neo-
Expressionist painting prevalent at the time, it fundamentally alters
our appreciation of the tradition of chiaroscuro painting, which Octo-
ber 18, 1977 updates in unanticipated ways.
Combined with various unpainting procedures, gray thus operates
as the agency and emblem of doubt, in a situation where doubt is in-
tolerable to many if not most of those with the deepest involvement.2
for Primo Levi, “the gray zone” is the zone of moral ambiguity
(or morality lost in a situation of traumatically brutalizing amorality),
which Richter’s paintings may perform even outside of their desire to do
so. Levi notes the moral ambiguity enforced by the Lagers, the degrada-
tion of the victims, and the “gray zone of collaboration,” in his chapter,
“The Gray Zone,” from The Drowned and the Saved.
In contrast to a certain hagiographic and rhetorical stylization, the
harsher the oppression, the more widespread among the oppressed is
the willingness, with all its infinite nuances and motivations, to col-
laborate: terror, ideological seduction, servile imitation of the victor,
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