“Five Doors II”, painted in 1967 by Gerhard Richter, sold at auction on Oct. 11 for a paltry $3.5 million, compared to a Richter abstraction from 1994 that sold the next day for $34.2 million, setting a record for any living artist. I wrote about the Richter record on today’s Daily Beast, and argued that the abstraction fetched its price because it was so much less challenging that Richter’s earlier figuration, while still bearing his august name. (Although I’ve since found out it’s a kind of fake record: A Lucien Freud sold for more while he was alive, but because he has since died, that sale is being ignored. That is, the auction houses are defining the record as being for an artist alive now rather than for an artist alive at the time of the sale of his or her work.) What I left out of my Beast piece was any discussion of “Five Doors” as a work of art. Several expert sources, speaking like old-fashioned connoisseurs, dismissed it as weaker than Richter’s landmark photo-based paintings of the 1960s. I guess I can’t go to bat for “Five Doors” as a masterpiece, but I do think that its very oddness will some day have museums eager to have it, as an example of the range of Richter’s early experimentation. The late, sort-of-record-breaking abstraction is too much like other Richters of its moment to be especially preferred over them.
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