Gerhard Richter Atlas Picture Series as Artistic Strategy



9. June 2021, 6.30 pm (CEST)

Medical School Hamburg, University of Applied Sciences and Medical University

I am going to present a public lecture about "Gerhard Richter Atlas. Picture Series as Artistic Strategy" (in German language).  

Richter visualised in his "Atlas" a photographic memory, whereby the artist dialogues the cleared and blurred, interspersed with colour, interspersed with lines, as well as colour palette arrangements, ordered and random things. Richter approaches here the concepts of "Musée Imaginaire" by André Malraux or the image memory in the Mnemosyne Picture Atlas by Aby Warburg, narrative, but here nonetheless unpredictable.

The work on Richter's "Atlas" roots in my long term research on Aby Warburg's theory of image memory and his pictures series. Between 1926 and 1929 Warburg created a picture atlas titled Mnemosyne Bilderatlas, which became his final work. The Atlas contains over 60 panels filled with hundreds of photographs and other visual sources. The ordering is non-linear but follows Warburg's specific persuasion of the function of image memory, which holds all experienced images always more or less present to be taken into a dialogue with new images, in order to create in the memory new content. He discovered that some particular images or rather gestural motives can be remembered over and over again, over a long period of times and spaces. Warburg discovered that those motives are pre-configured already in ancient time by highly emotional ritual experience. They still exceptionally energized and therefore create a memory track (engram) in the human memory. Always when there are specific conditions of possibility for the memory to call them back (Foucault's understanding of chance in historical processes) they are coming back being expressed and visualised again. Warburg called those particular expressive visual values "pathos formula". Generally, Warburg's Atlas can be perceived as a visualisation of the image memory. The art historian himself stated that the picture series visualisation of the function of the image memory. I believe also Richter's Atlas is a kind of his image memory, created by images related to his artistic practice and life. 

The sequence of image formations has been an essential structural model of artistic work since the modern age, especially in conceptual art. However, the series as such is not an invention of modernity. Even in the earlier epochs of art history, such formations have been created, albeit committed to a different understanding of the idea of an artwork. In the lecture, focussing on the conceptual installation Atlas by Gerhard Richter, and taking into account other examples from art history, I will be highlighting the idea and the practice of image series, both as an artistic concept and as an artistic strategy. For that purpose, I will also discuss the idea of picture series in the theoretical context of art theories from among others Nelson Goodman, Michel Foucault and Benjamin Buchloh. I intend to discuss the idea of picture series in the context of processes of narrativity, cognition and embodiment in relation to art theory and practice.

Gerhard Richter "Atlas": Atlas Panel 1, from: Gerhard Richter "Atlas", ed. by Helmut Friedel, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln 2006,

Attendance is free of charge, please register on