Cologne.

Gerhard Richter turns 90 this Wednesday (February 9). Unfortunately, he doesn’t like to talk about such occasions as he basically resists any media attention.

Can you at least go so far as to say that he will party in a small family circle? Yes, that is absolutely correct, says the jubilee in an interview with the German Press Agency. And the wishes? He has no wishes. ‘That would be embarrassing. I warned everyone: I don’t need anything more!” At the same time, he laughs.

Not the painter prince type

He has everything. Gerhard Richter is considered the most gifted living painter in the world and can therefore fulfill all wishes. Theoretically. In practice, as a very old person who is no longer quite fit, you have been largely housebound since the start of the corona pandemic. And even before that, Richter was never the kind of painter prince who lets himself be celebrated, travels the world and throws money everywhere. Rather, he is the tireless worker who is never satisfied with himself. His art deserves notice, but not himself, he’s really not interesting either. He says.

“Once, he sighed years ago, nobody was interested in me and I could paint in peace. As his fame grew, he became more and more withdrawn. His home in Cologne-Hahnwald’s villa district is secluded by a bunker-like block of studio apartments. A wall of protection against the outside world. Inside, everything is impeccably tidy. The studio feels almost as clinical as a lab. It also has something to do with control.

Walks in the residential area

The house with the back garden is a “paradise” for Richter. It must be said, however, that not everyone wanted to live in Cologne-Hahnwald. This is the district of fortified villas, fenced and reinforced by surveillance cameras. To get a beer or a bag of crisps, you have to get in the car. But you can walk relatively quietly. Richter was here with his little dog. If you met him, you might mistake him for a retired ministerial director. Discreet appearance, neat dress, reserved attitude. With such comparisons, however, one does not make oneself popular with him.

Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden and still makes Saxon today. Not strong, but unmistakable. He fled the GDR to the west in 1961. He came to Cologne rather by chance: worked for a long time in Düsseldorf, then found the right property in the neighboring city. Among other things, he owes his adopted home to the Richter window of Cologne Cathedral. It has become a real tourist attraction.

Richter is even an honorary citizen of the city, which means he has free admission to Museum Ludwig. But he does not use this privilege. When he visits an exhibition, he always buys a ticket, as you can see. Anything else wouldn’t suit him either. What is actually his favorite place in Cologne? “Not so easy.” Short thought. “The area around the cathedral, I like going there. And the churches in Cologne are also worth a visit.

It must be a weird feeling knowing that anything you get your hands on can be monetized. It’s like in the fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm, in which the miller’s daughter turns straw into gold. It can be a curse. Some time ago, a man was brought before a court in Cologne who fished abandoned sketches from Richter’s rubbish. He wanted to sell it. On this occasion, the public learned that Richter always took out his wastebasket himself with unfinished works.

Late work arrives in Berlin

As for the painter, he said goodbye to large formats. Anyone who has seen how the slender old gentleman climbed a folding ladder a few years ago to work on huge canvases with a squeegee will not find it surprising. Rather reassuring. Now he mainly draws. “Nothing in particular.”

What he still has he gave to Berlin. The hundred works, including a large part of late abstract works, leave for the Museum of the 20th Century, currently under construction. There will be a bedroom of his own, upstairs. Does he still experience it? Of course that would be nice. No hype, please. (dpa)