Month: February, 2013

Films About Art Part I:Gerhard Richter Painting

Haggadah 2006

Haggadah 2006

Filmed over the span of 10 months in the year 2009 Gerhard Richter Painting is a rare glimpse into the studio and life of one of the world’s most renown painters. The film shows the artist while he works on a series of abstracts documenting in part his creative process. No film can truly capture the essence of an artist at work, but filmmaker Corinna Belz does a fair job. The problem of trying to document the process of art creation is that the minute the camera is set up the painting becomes more of a performance and the art may suffer because of it. Picasso famously destroyed all the work created for the 1956 film  The Mystery of Picasso. He realized the camera’s presence was a distraction and felt that it compromised the work. Richter also acknowledges the camera’s affect in so much that ‘it changes the way he walks’.

Lesende Reader 1994

Lesende Reader 1994

Richter in fact is no stranger to change. Since establishing his name in the late 60’s, he is one of the few artists who can easily travel between the worlds of photo-realism and pure abstraction. The documentary touches upon his career through a series of retrospectives held throughout the world highlighting the range of his distinct styles. This aspect of the film dwells too heavily on the mock-ups of the gallery layouts and miniature reproductions of the work. It provides a glimpse into his immense catalogue but leaves the viewer wanting to see the actual paintings.

Abstract Painting 1988

Abstraktes Bild 1988

The film does however do a wonderful job of revealing the charm of its subject. The 81 year old artist is both humble and open while being very self aware of his trajectory. A telling scene comes when he is casually strolling through a gallery full of Picasso’s and is more interested in the florescent lighting above him than the masterpieces in front of him. In October a painting by Richter sold for a record 34.2 million (update he just recently beat his own record -37 million). This is the highest price ever paid at auction for a living artist.  He enjoys the attention of all the exhibitions and the adoring public but all these obligations for him take time away from his true love painting.

Abstraktes Bild 2009

Abstraktes Bild 2009

Witnessing the decisions Richter makes as he executes the work is the true joy of this film. His insight into what’s worth keeping and what’s worth discarding is always surprising and always on the money. Favour is a fickle mistress that changes from day to day. A painting has to pass the test of time to be able to leave the studio. Knowing when something’s finished may be the hardest part of being an artist. It is a shame that this documentary only runs an hour an half because I could have watched him paint all day.


Zero Gravity: Digital Painting

Zero Gravity  2013

Zero Gravity 2013

Just little over a week until The Artist Project at the Better Living Centre Feb 21-24 Toronto.

Shift by Richard Serra


“Google Maps lies”, or least that’s what I’m telling myself as we trundle our way into an empty field looking for one of the lost great art treasures of the 20th century. According to satellite photos and where we parked the car: it should be right where we’re standing. Instead, all we can see is a man way off in the distance using a wood chipper. Having seen Fargo, along with the fact we just hopped a fence ignoring a no trespassing sign; my wife and I approach with caution. “Excuse me, would you happen to know where we could find Shift?” my wife asks the man whose farm we are currently trespassing on. He gives us the once over and then slowly turns his head and surveys the land. Satisfied we’re harmless he points over his shoulder and says we can find the sculpture beyond a ridge of trees behind him. The farmer turns out to be really sweet and helpful and tells us that he ends up helping wayward art lovers roughly 3 or 4 times a year. We ask him what he thinks of Shift and he shrugs then replies” If it prevents developers from moving in, I love it.”


We follow his thumb and in no time are standing on a slope looking across a series of what resemble low running concrete fences dissecting the land. We had found Richard Serra‘s Shift. Originally commissioned by art collector Roger Davidson in the early 1970’s, it was one of Serra’s earliest land works. Shift consists of six running cement pieces that are five feet tall, eight inches thick and vary from ninety to two hundred and forty feet in length. The piece is placed between two small hills  that are approximately fifteen hundred feet apart with a slope that drops by fifteen feet in the centre. Shift ebbs and flows as it rides the land.

Serra said of the piece: “What I wanted was a dialectic between one’s perception of the place in totality and one’s relation to the field as walked. The result is a way of measuring oneself against the indeterminacy of the land. I’m not interested in looking at sculpture which is solely defined by its internal relationships. When you bounce a ball on a shifting ground, it doesn’t return to your hand.” Writings and Interviews with Richard Serra

Richard Serra has converted an  isolated farmer’s field 45 minutes north of Toronto into a cathedral of contemporary art. Shift is very unassuming at first glance and almost gets lost into the scenery of an overcast  December day. It is an artwork that pictures do absolutely no justice to. It isn’t until you engage with it that it reveals its true beauty.  As you follow the lines of the concrete you rise and fall with the land constantly changing your perspective of the piece and its surroundings. Shift definitely shares some of the hallmarks of Serra’s later works: no one can take you on a walk like Richard Serra can.


The Serra collection at the Guggenheim in Bilbao is truly fantastic.

Over the years Shift has gone through some rough patches. It started back in 1980 when the land was sold by the original collector to land developers with the agreement that the work be considered a landmark and not be removed. Shift has been left to the elements and its age is starting to show. Recently the piece’s heritage rating has been revoked due to its remoteness. The major factor why it cannot maintain its landmark status for the residents of King City is: apparently not enough people brave the weather, know that it’s there and are willing to trespass to go see it.  Shift’s future is uncertain.


After spending an hour with Shift, my wife and I left recharged and thankful that we made the pilgrimage to Mr. Serra’s secret cathedral of changing perspectives before it could be too late. If in the future new developers come along and bulldoze the land to make way for another townhouse we’ll have lost a cultural milestone …… that and the love of a good farmer.