Though Germany’s most famous living artist says he doesn’t want a museum dedicated to his paintings, officials in Cologne, the city he has long called home, beg to differ.
Cologne has unofficially nursed the dream of opening a Gerhard Richter museum for years, hoping to persuade the artist to endorse an institution that will honor his achievements. But the painter doesn’t sound overly enthusiastic about the idea. Yesterday, Richter told the German radio station Deutschlandfunk that he has no “need” for a dedicated space as his work is represented in museums worldwide. “There are no concrete plans for a museum,” Richter told the radio station, saying he had been approached by the German city on several occasions. “I don’t need the solo performance,” he said.
Cologne’s former mayor, Fritz Schramma, stressed the urgency for such an institution in an opinion column last Thursday, claiming that the artist is not actually against the plan, despite his saying so. The response “suits his temperament,” Schramma said. He points out that Richter had expressed opposition before, though “always with a little smile.” Schramma warned that the time is right for the city to find a way to bring such a museum into existence—before another city does. According to Schramma, the 87-year-old artist, who was born in Dresden but has lived in Cologne for four decades, is in talks with other institutions about his own museum, though nothing has been stated officially on the matter.
The pressure is on, especially considering the Richter name has a huge tourist draw. The Museum Barberini, just outside Berlin, held a career-spanning show dedicated to Richter for just under four months last year, which attracted more than 150,000 visitors. At the Cologne cathedral, the city’s main tourist attraction, Richter designed a pixelated stained glassed window, which draws a huge crowd on any given day of the week.
The current mayor Henriette Rekker told the newspaper Express that while the discussion over whether or not to build a museum dedicated to Richter has been ongoing, the city and the artists have yet to agree to how this idea should be realized. “Of course, it would be a great honor and enrichment for the city to be able to exhibit the work of its honorary citizen Gerhard Richter in a special way,” Rekker said. However, “It has not yet been possible to agree on the circumstances for the realization of this idea,” she said, though the city will keep trying.
Even though the artist has not endorsed the plan, the debate over what kind of museum would be fit for Richter has already begun. First, the city needs to acquire a collection. “A museum with world-class architecture would have to be built there, at least in the league of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao,” says the mayor of central Cologne, Andreas Hupke. “If Cologne only wants a hint of a chance to bring a respectable sized Gerhard Richter collection to Cologne, then the city has to be serious, and not make a mess of this.”
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