Betty, Gerhard Richter, 1988

In the Washington Post, art critic Sebastion Smee has a column entitled, Great Works, In Focus, in which he curates American art from around the country. In this year’s column, one of the works selected, was from the Saint Louis Art Museum, Betty, by Gerhard Richter. It is one of my favorites, if not the favorite work at the museum. Of the 125 works that Mr. Smee discusses, I have seen many of them and also have photos of some of them. So, I might revisit his column again.

I must have studied this painting a hundred times, but I still learned much by reading Smee about it. Its photo-realism leaps the uncanny valley, but the nuances that Smee elucidates make it unusual among modern paintings. Betty is displayed in a large room of the Slammer’s new modern art wing. She seems dwarfed and set aside in a corner—”Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”—by another of Richter’s works that dominates the room. It is a four-panel, floor to ceiling, dark abstract painting, called Grey Mirror that I don’t really care for. Even though the two works were created several years apart, I’ve often joked that they were both part of the same commission and that after spending so much time meticulously painting Betty, Richter had to rush to complete Grey Mirror in time, to fulfill his obligation. Such is the level of my art criticism. 

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