Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo consists of two grey painted plaster busts on top of two wooden plinths also painted grey. Made of plaster of Paris the busts depict the head and neck of the artist Gerhard Richter, shown on the left in this photograph of the work, and his friend the German artist Blinky Palermo shown on the right. The pair are depicted with their eyes and mouths closed. The surfaces of both busts are uneven, with lines and marks visible in the plaster. Although the face of each artist is presented in exact likeness, the top and back of the heads contain less detail. Richter has signed each bust under the neck ‘Richter 1971’. The busts are mounted on pedestals of equal height: 174 cm, Richter’s own height. Visible brush strokes and uneven layers of paint are visible on each pedestal, making the paint colour appear varied.
The sculptures were originally cast in 1971 and were intended for a room designed by Palermo at the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Cologne. The original room was painted ochre yellow with an unpainted frame that measured, according to Richter, ‘about a hand’s width’ (quoted in Elger and Obrist 2009, p.453). Although Richter liked the room he felt that it was incomplete without the presence of sculpture. He subsequently produced Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo to meet this need. Of the making of the plaster busts, Richter has said: ‘We made those ourselves. I made a plaster of Paris mask of his face, he helped me with mine, and I modelled the rest to fit – the head, the hair, the ears, the back of the head.’ (Quoted in Elger and Obrist 2009, p.453.) Initial sketches of the design of Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo can be found on sheets 262 and 263 of Richter’s scrapbook, first published in 1972 under the title Atlas. After the initial exhibition Richter had a specialist cast them in bronze. Two bronze copies were made, one of which can be found at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau in Munich as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The two heads are figurative and life-sized, and as such could be seen as belonging to a sculptural portrait tradition that stretches back to Roman times. The traditional figurative approach of Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo is similar to that of Richter’s series of photographs 48 Portraits 1971–98 (AR00025), each of which shows the head of a different individual. However, Richter has resisted direct comparisons between the two works, claiming that neither he nor Palermo, as artists, ever considered themselves to be amongst the group of men portrayed in 48 Portraits (the subjects of which are white central European and North American males prominent in the fields of literature, science, philosophy, and music, but not visual art). Instead Richter has indicated that his use of the figurative, classical style was in opposition to the frivolousness of Pop Art, stating: ‘Maybe it was a polemic against the zeitgeist of egalitarianism, pluralism and this whole anti-aesthetic debate. Maybe we made those heads and lauded the classical in order to be polemical, against the time’. (Quoted in Elger and Obrist 2009, p.421.) The sculptures were completed specifically for the exhibition of Palermo’s ochre room and as a result restaging them within a museum setting has proved difficult. As the curator Mark Godfrey has noted, the work ‘demands a room of particular proportions’ (Godfrey 2011, p.13). The two sculptures are typically situated with the heads facing each other across the room. This particular arrangement allows the viewer to face each sculpture as if they were confronting the artists themselves.
Richter was born in Dresden in 1932 and he began his studies at the State Art Academy in Düsseldorf in 1961, it was here that he met the German abstract painter Blinky Palermo who was born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig in 1943. During his time at the academy Schwarze chose the artist name ‘Blinky Palermo’ after the American Mafioso and boxing promoter Frank ‘Blinky’ Palermo. He and Richter became acquainted during a student exhibition in the spring of 1963, and the pair subsequently exhibited together twice. The first of these exhibitions was entitled Für Salvador Dalí, held at Galerie Ernst in Hanover (10 October to 6 November 1970). The second was held at the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Cologne (21 April to 15 May 1971), where Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo was first exhibited. Three paintings in Richter’s catalogue of works were completed in collaboration with Palermo: Finger-marks 1970 and two untitled works of 1971. Of their relationship Richter has said: ‘We didn’t have a competitive relationship because we were so different. I always acknowledged that he could create a certain stillness in his work – that was foreign to me’ (quoted in Elger and Obrist 2009, p.546).
Helmut Friedel and Ulrich Wilmes (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Atlas of the Photographs, Collages and Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich 1997.
Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters, 1961–2007, London 2009, pp.421, 453, 546.
Mark Godfrey and Nicholas Serota (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2011, pp.10–13.
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