The New York Sun: Hans Richter, New Perspectives on Dada & Cubism


New Perspectives on Dada & Cubism


As art movements go, Dada burned brightly and briefly, its spirit too nihilistic to be sustained by mere paint and poems. Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp moved on to influential careers, but the Berlin-born Hans Richter (1888-1976), a founder of Dada’s Zurich chapter and author of the history “Dada: Art and Anti-Art,” is less remembered. Maya Stendhal’s handsome survey of more than I00 of his drawings, prints, paintings, assemblages, and reliefs could use a few more explanatory labels and elaboration of his work in film, but it amply demonstrates the artist’s protean gifts.

Maya Stendhal Gallery

Berry-Hill Galleries

Greenberg Van Doren Gallery

Richter’s earliest Dadaist works on view include a series of raw, expressionist portraits executed between 1916 and 1918 in ink, colored pencil, and linocut. He soon turned to geometric abstraction, and from then on his radicalism found its voice – remarkably enough – in lyrical, playful composition, In 1919, he produced the first of his “scroll paintings,” long, thin compositions paced by rhythmically evolving shapes. (Unsurprisingly, these sequential images coincide with his first abstract experiments in film.) He revisited this format over the years with such works as the 7-foot-tall oil painting “Fugue 8” (1958) arid the 11-foot-wide serigraph “Fugue 23” (1976). All are notable for their linear sense of time; unlike most traditional paintings even abstractions – there’s little doubt about the progressions of movements.

His more compact designs employed a bewildering variety of materials. The de Stijl-like canvas “Towards a Perfect Painting (1946) opposes jazzy thrusts of red, blue, and black on a white background. With delightful irreverence bits of corrugated cardboard animate two collages from 1970. Several reliefs incorporate polished metal cutouts, and even, in the case of “Three Little Themes” (1964), copper strips applied artfully to termite-eaten planks.

Despite these works’ revolutionary mots, a poetic orderliness prevails. Two wood reliefs fmm 1974, both titled “Dada Head (After Drawing 1918),” reflect the persistent balance of logic and lyricism. Their playfully abstracted features are engaging but not startling, as if guided by wit and application rather than by, say, Arp’s drive for pure, plastic discovery and climactic tensions.

Richter aficionados will be pleased to see films playing on two screens. His later films, produced after he settled in the United States, include “8×8” (1957), in which Duchamp, megaphone in hand, dourly supervises a giant chess game with live playing pieces. The earlier black-and-white short films are less dryly cerebral. In “Rhythm 21” (1921), rectangles expand and shift across the screen in pregnant intervals. Though conceptually simple, its effect is hypnotic. “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1927) constructs a provocative pseudo-narrative out of self-propelled bowler hats, self-filling coffee cups, and vanishing beards – their juxtapositions made even stranger by dramatic lighting and camera angles. In it, one senses an acute intelligence at work, freewheeling in its outlook but insisting on its own, discreet rhythms …

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