Lilias Wigan reviews Gerhard Richter's first commercial London show in two decades.

This much anticipated exhibition, which launches New York dealer Marian Goodman’s Victorian warehouse gallery, surpasses expectation. It’s the 82-year-old artist’s first commercial London show in two decades and consists of over 40 seminal pieces, including works from his ‘Strip’, ‘Flow’ and ‘Dopplegrau’ series’.

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As we enter the exhibition, we’re confronted first by his ‘Flow’ paintings. Richter glorifies the materiality of paint, freezing the current of pigmented enamel with a glass, lens-like sheet. Here is his tribute to the raw quality of oils. The freedom of the medium is revealed at the point where the artists’ physical manipulation and the paint’s natural, gravitational flow intersect. Our natural desire to touch the thick paint is immediately halted by the glass. The effect of the glass removes us at once from the tangible quality of the paint, denying our access and forcing us to admire it from a distance.

In his ‘Strip’ works, Richter takes pixel-wide sections of a photograph of one of his abstract oil paintings from 1990, and uses photographic software to deconstruct, divide and duplicate the image. He then arranges these duplicates in narrow stripes alongside one another. With 4,096 vertical, digital sections of the painting, he meticulously selects those to work with. These are used to create landscapes of horizontal, coloured stripes stretching up to 10 metres in length. The result: stirring optical effects and lurid vibrations of colour. The title of these works not only refers to the strips of colour, but also to his physical practice of stripping down the original painted work. Richter is painfully abstracting what has already been abstracted.

In the main room sits House of Cards, a large, precarious installation of seven glass sheets propped at angles against each other. Disjointed, the panes rely on each other’s weight to stay upright, a reminder of the fragility of glass against gravity. Again, we’re seeing fiction; this time, the illusion of dislocated shards of light darting through the glass, occasionally interrupting our own reflections. Bound with steel clamps, this geometric structure lies somewhere between sculpture, painting and architecture.

The Marian Goodman Gallery is the latest foreign blue-chip institution to move to London and is well worth keeping an eye on.

‘Gerhard Richter’ is at Marian Goodman Gallery, 5-8 Lower John Street, London W1F 9DY until December 20, 2014 (020–7099 0088; www.mariangoodman.com)

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