Gerhard Richter has raised an interesting conundrum for collectors and lawyers alike. The well-respected artist has a reputation for a rigorous control of his oeuvre, and has one of the most thorough and comprehensive catalogue raisonné of any artist, living or dead. (Much of this information, which includes a photograph of each work, alongside details of its provenance, exhibition and literature history is available to view online, although the website issues a disclaimer that it is not to be treated as a catalogue raisonné, and therefore ‘may not be relied upon as constituting a representation or warranty that such work is or is not an authentic work of Gerhard Richter’).
However, artnet news, via Tagesspiegal, has reported that Richter has taken a dislike to some of his early works, and excluded them from the fourth volume of his catalogue raisonné, which covers the years 1976-1994. The works that haven’t made the cut include some of those made in West Germany in the 1960s; paintings that show Richter working in a detailed, figurative style that is quite different to his later abstract and photo-realist paintings.
In an increasingly litigious climate, catalogues raisonnés are more important then ever, so it will be interesting to see whether Richter’s ruthlessness will be challenged. What happens to the value of a work if an artist refuses to acknowledge it as a work of art? Where does this leave a collector who owns such an object? Who is it that determines what a work of art is? Should the catalogue raisonné be an exhaustive, objective, inventory of all works ever made by the artist, or should the artist be allowed to edit it?