In the 1990s, the pronounced chromaticism of Richter’s abstract work often gave way to monochromatic or two-tone sobriety. Schein (810-2) is the second in a series of five quadrangular paintings measuring two by two metres. Uncharacteristically dominated by white, the piece is the most monochromatic work in the series. In the image we see, it looks as if a mass of white paint has been wiped or slid across the canvas from left to right to create horizontal lines and shadows. The meaning of the title, which also means ‘light’ or ‘clarity’, is absolutely clear. The painting becomes a metaphor or image of the ineffable, but it does so without taking any narrative or literary referent as its starting point. Richter goes beyond Minimalism without resorting to elements outside the medium of painting. Given the way he repeats the procedures he uses to create a painting with only slight chromatic variations, critics have often argued that his work is ritualistic in nature. The distancing effect of his brushwork and the analytical foundations of his work seem to question the power of painting. However, Richter’s desire to achieve beauty through radiant, ambiguous images—here, for example, the white allows the viewer to glimpse glazes—makes him part of the great tradition of painting. Critics have also related the repetition of the artist’s gestures to the ideas of simplicity found in Zen philosophy. Finally, the absence of categorical assertions in his work can be understood as a radical critique of religious and ideological dogma.
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