First Publication of Richter's Atlas

Gerhard Richter.
Atlas van de foto's en schetsen.

Utrecht: Hedendaagse Kunst, 1972.

8vo.; fully illustrated in b+w; printed leaf with exhibition information loosely inserted; printed wrappers.

First edition. The original publication Richter’s Atlas accompanied the first exhibition of what has become perhaps his single most significant artwork, the evolving, ever-expanding compendium of imagery that Richter began to amass in 1964 by collecting photos printed in newspapers, magazines and commonplace sources. Richter’s process gained momentum as he added new categories of material, including his own photos and drawings, as well as postcards, anonymous snapshots, landscape images, historical likenesses, pornography, architectural renderings, technical drawings and much else, all in an effort to encompass the vast array of visual data that has become increasingly ubiquitous. These images, affixed to a few hundred panels and arranged on the wall in grids, comprised the first exhibition of Atlas and this artist’s book--which consists of page after page of visual information without any text, even page numbers, to guide the viewer--was its first published form. Atlas has been exhibited on numerous occasions throughout the world and new publications have also followed, but even as the number of panels and images has expanded tenfold, both the form of the installation and of the book has remained essentially that which was set forth her by Richter in 1972.

Richter has stated on several occasions that Atlas is governed by no overriding logic or polemical position. It is not an image bank, an archive, or a system of typologies. It is, as the name implies, a cartographic effort. Yet it is a mapping project that remains necessarily unfinished. For Richter, this incompleteness is key; as he sees it, the central dilemma confronting the contemporary artist is the Sisyphean inevitability with which any aesthetic vision will ultimately fail to transform a world that is increasingly defined by the massive proliferation of visual imagery. Thus Atlas is both the visual and the existential context that frames Richter’s artistic output and, as such, it is one of the truly crucial documents of contemporary art. [Number 49, Butin. Gerhard Richter: Catalogue RaisonnĂ© of the Editions, 1964-2004. Hatje Cantz, 2005].