Hans Richter. A journey through a century

ExhibitionsHans Richter. A journey through a century

From 28 September 2013 to 24 February 2014

Locations : Galerie 2
Category : Exhibitions
Public : All ages

Centre Pompidou-Metz presents the first major retrospective in France of the work of Hans Richter (1888-1976). Staged in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, this monographic exhibition views the artist in his broader context.

Hans Richter. A journey through a century traces more than fifty years in the artist's career in the light of his many collaborations, with Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Viking Eggeling, Max Ernst, Marcel Janco, Fernand Léger, Kazimir Malevich, Man Ray, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gerrit Rietveld or Theo van Doesburg. Hans Richter was a force in shaping art in the twentieth century in its social, political and formal dimensions. This is illustrated by a vast body of documents (books, periodicals, etc.) alongside the presentation of major avant-garde works of the twentieth century.

From the First World War to the Spartacist uprising, from the Weimar Republic to the onset of the Nazi regime and persecution of Jews, from Zurich to Berlin, Moscow and New York, where he emigrated in the early 1940s, Hans Richter witnessed first-hand the events that left their mark on Europe in the 20th century. From expressionism through dadaism, constructivism and neoplasticism, he was one of the major figures of avant-garde art in the 1910s and 1920s, and a catalyst for intellectuals and artists from all horizons and every discipline. As the centre of modern art shifted from Europe to the United States, so did he. Through his teaching, his publications and the exhibitions he staged, he helped write the history of the modern movement to which he had actively contributed. He was also influential in developing a system of the arts that gave new prominence to film.

A pioneer of experimental cinema, his Rhythm 21 is a three-minute film as radical in its nature as Kazimir Malevich's Black Square. Indeed, the two would work together in 1927.

In Hans Richter's protean oeuvre, film is a meeting point where different media - painting, drawing, but also typography, photography and architecture - interplay. The films he produced from vast painted scrolls influenced the modern architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Gerrit Rietveld. Hans Richter. A journey through a century reveals this permeability between forms, and examines perception and interpretations of moving images within the museum space. It also traces the importance of film in twentieth-century art which Hans Richter, so often at the crossroads of genres, pioneered.

The exhibition sets out to trace, step by step, Richter's experience of the century, from Dada in the 1910s and 1920s to its documenting in words and images by Hans Richter in a new role as the historian of the avant-garde and of his own existence. From the experience of Dada to Dada retold, the exhibition considers the passing of time, political and artistic engagement, history and the repetition of history.

Philippe-Alain Michaud, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Head of the Experimental Film Department.
Timothy O. Benson, Curator, Rifkind Center, LACMA, Los Angeles.

Curatorial assistant:
Cécile Bargues, art historian

As a continuation of Hans Richter. A journey through a century six portraits of cities where Hans Richter lived are being screened in Galerie 3. Hans Richter's Cities. Berlin - Moscow - New York takes viewers from Europe in the 1920s to the United States of the post-war years in works by major artistic and experimental filmmakers: Eugène Deslaw, Peter Hutton, Mikhail Kaufman, László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Ruttmann, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler.

Hans RICHTER (1888-1976)

Johannes Siegfried (Hans) Richter was born in Berlin, the eldest of six children, to Moritz Richter and Ida Gabriele Richter (née Rothschild). His parents were well-off and encouraged Hans to pursue his interest in art. From being a young boy, Hans Richter showed a talent for drawing.

He entered the Academy of Fine Art in Berlin, and the following year the Academy of Fine Art in Weimar.

Hans Richter contributed to the periodicals Der Sturm and Die Aktion.

Wounded in the First World War, he arrived in Zurich where he met Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, Jean Arp and Hugo Ball. This was the beginning of Dada, "a radical shift which opened vast horizons for the modern mentality," he wrote.

Hans Richter explored notions of spontaneity and chance in his Visionary Portraits series. He produced several Dada Heads, experimenting with oppositions of positive and negative, black and white.

Tristan Tzara introduced Hans Richter to Viking Eggeling. The two men worked together, ultimately inventing abstract film. Two years later they published a brochure (now lost) titled Universal Language.

Hans Richter joined the Munich Republic of Workers' Councils. He drew his Prelude series.

After a collaborative practice with Viking Eggeling, Richter made his first film, Rhythm 21. Theo van Doesburg published an article on the two friends' experiments in the periodical De Stijl, to which Hans Richter would later contribute.

At Richter's initiative, the first issue of G (short for Gestaltung, German for "form" or "creation") was published. Six issues would be published in all, the last appearing in 1926. The periodical continued the rapprochement between Dada and constructivism. Contributors included Jean Arp, Raoul Hausmann, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara and Theo van Doesburg.

Hans Richter and Kazimir Malevich made preparations for a film on suprematism.

Moving away from abstract animation, Hans Richter made a more narrative film, Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast), in which objects refuse to conform to their role and challenge the established order.

The landmark FiFo (Film und Foto) exhibition took place in Stuttgart. Hans Richter curated the film section. Some one thousand photographs were also shown, selected among others by Edward Weston and Edward Steichen for the United States, and by El Lissitzky for the Soviet Union. László Moholy-Nagy designed the main room.

The Nazis ransacked Hans Richter's studio in Berlin, confiscating or destroying his work. He was stripped of German nationality, and labelled a "degenerate" artist and "cultural Bolshevik".

After attempting, in vain, to make an anti-Nazi film in the Soviet Union in 1931-1932, Hans Richter travelled around Europe. He worked for Philips in Holland, and made commissioned films in Switzerland. He also gave numerous lectures about film.

Hans Richter took exile in the United States, via Chile. He taught at the Institute of Film Technique at City College in New York, before taking over as director.

Richter made Dreams That Money Can Buy with friends who had also emigrated to the United States: Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger and Man Ray.

Hans Richter returned to painting. Peggy Guggenheim organised his first solo show in the United States in which his large painted scrolls, inspired by the Second World War, featured prominently.

Hans Richter helped organise exhibitions which revived interest in Dada, both in the United States and Europe. In 1956 he made Dadascope, a film dedicated to Dada poetry.

Richter published Dada, Art and Anti-Art in German, with translations into French and English. Other books on the history of Dada would follow (Dada Profile, Begegnungen von Dada bis heute). Two years later he devised Dada 1916-1966, an exhibition composed entirely of reproductions which would travel all over the world.

During the final years of his life, Richter's work was shown in 28 solo shows and 32 group shows. Hans Richter died aged 87 in Ticion, Switzerland, where he had a studio close to that of Jean Arp, and where he lived for part of the year, spending the rest of his time in Connecticut. Up until his death, he continued to travel, paint and write.

The exhibition is chronologically structured as a line but also a circle, an analogy for a continuous reel of film as Hans Richter's practice is marked by repetition. He reprised works, extended the principles of avant-gardism as established in the 1920s, and documented his own history in books and exhibitions. The circle is complete when, having been one of the major Dada artists, Hans Richter wrote its history and so became its guardian.

In 1916, a 28-year-old Hans Richter arrived in Zurich. Seriously injured and recently discharged from hospital and active duty, he obsessively drew pigs devouring corpses brought back from the front. It was in Zurich that Hans Richter met Jean Arp, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara. Zurich was an "island in the midst of fire, iron and blood" and the home of Dada. The revolution of which he was a part was not, he would later write, "an artistic movement in the accepted sense; it was a storm that broke over the world of art as the war did over the nations." Richter was part of Die Aktion, a group forged around Franz Pfemfert's periodical of the same name, and joined protests against the slaughter of war, yet he challenged the established order first and foremost in his Visionary Portraits which he painted at twilight, allowing colour to freely flow and the hand to work almost unguided. His Dada Head ink drawings went further still in their simplification of form and rapid gesture. These black and white drawings introduced a representation of positive and negative, and were a preliminary to future experiments in the then wide-open field of cinema. Richter's encounter with Viking Eggeling would be hugely influential in this respect.

Following the last Dada evening, Hans Richter joined the newly formed Munich Republic of Workers' Councils, witnessing the outpouring of violence which put an end to the Spartacist uprising. This section of the exhibition also shows the collaborative work of Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling. Together they explored representations of movement, and the appearance and disappearance of pure forms using vast sequenced scrolls. This led them from painting to the kinetic image and, beyond this, to the exploration of space-time which Richter named the "fourth dimension". Abstraction is the least observed aspect of Dada: Rhythm 21 (1921) and Rhythm 23 (1923) are composed of an abstract arrangement of rhythmically alternating rectangles and squares. Both films find resonance with the De Stijl aesthetic. At the crossroads of avant-gardism, Hans Richter shows how Dada reconciles political and formal subversion; his work invites us to consider the history of art beyond the confines of categorisation. Thus the exhibition shows side by side work by artists of the De Stijl (Gerrit Rietveld, Georges Vantongerloo, Theo van Doesburg…) and Dada movements (Jean Arp, Raoul Hausmann, Marcel Janco, Kurt Schwitters…).

Between 1923 and1926, Richter published G, a periodical which is the subject of the next section. G is the first letter of Gestaltung (form); the title was thought up by El Lissitzky who also designed the typography for the first two issues. One among a multitude of journals with which Richter was involved in the 1920s, from Ma to Contimporanul, G nonetheless stood apart for the wide spectrum of contributors (Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Werner Gräff, Raoul Hausmann, Piet Mondrian, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Kurt Schwitters…) and for the diversity of subjects it engaged, from the form of clothes to that of buildings, letters or engines. G gave equal consideration to the role of concrete poetry as to that of film, describing what film had been and what it could become. The last issue, titled simply Film, was both tribute and testament.

On one of its covers, G published a composition by Kazimir Malevich that gives an elevated view of floating elements. On a visit to the Bauhaus, Malevich had asked Richter to give movement to suprematist elements and to deploy them in space, but his forced return to the USSR prevented him from giving Richter the script he had prepared. The film was never made and the script thought to have been lost. It resurfaced many years later and was realised by Richter in the late 1960s, assisted by Arnold Eagle. The entire project is on view in the exhibition.

Hans Richter's prominence in avant-garde filmmaking, together with the impact of his 1920s productions such as Filmstudie (1926), Inflation (1927-28), Vormittagsspuk (1928) and Alles dreht sich (1929) led him to a new role as film curator for Film und Foto, an exhibition held in Stuttgart in 1929. This was an ecumenical history of cinema which, surprisingly, extended as far as scientific and experimental film. Photographs in the exhibition convey this militant vision which illustrates and defends film's social role. This same vision continues in Filmgegner von heute - Filmfreunde von morgen, the book which Richter published to coincide with the exhibition.

In the early 1930s, Hans Richter tried, in vain, to make an anti-Nazi documentary, Metall, in the Soviet Union. Realising that he was in danger in Germany, he took refuge in Switzerland then in Holland where he earned a living from lectures and commissioned films. It was during this exile that the Nazis organised an exhibition of "degenerate art" which included Richter's work. Little is known of these years of rupture and isolation, when many of Richter's works were destroyed. After reaching the United States, via Chile, Hans Richter returned to painting, producing historically charged painted scrolls with collage elements: Stalingrad (1943-1946) and The Liberation of Paris (1945).

The next section shows how Hans Richter reformed, in New York, avant-gardism's broken circle with Dreams That Money Can Buy (1944-1947), a film composed of sequences by Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Richter himself as the Blue Man, named after a striking portrait painted in the Zurich years, with which Richter particularly identified. Thus began an aesthetic based on the repetition and reactivation of forms. As a teacher, Richter helped shape a new generation of artists and filmmakers, all the time bearing witness to the Dada movement. He brought his friends together in Dadascope (1956-1961), remade works which had been destroyed, wrote essays and Dada, Art and Anti-Art, a history of the Dada movement (1965). He also staged Dada 1916-1966, a vast compilation of reproductions which was shown all over the world.

First shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as Hans Richter: Encounters from 5 May to 2 September 2013, this exhibition will be shown at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin from 27 March to 30 June 2014.

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