BY ABIGAIL RATCLIFF
If you ever want to be locked up in a cage that makes you feel more liberated than trapped, then I implore you to stand in room 14 of the Tate Modern. Although ‘Cage’ by Gerhard Richter does not allude to a cage that confines you, one cannot help but notice how the composition of the paint strokes appears as bars on the canvas. As a result of this, these paintings do not immediately give themselves away. Their beauty is not established only by their nature as a whole, but rather, by the careful picking out of small sections of each painting and by penetrating through the many layers to uncover something that you may have missed. If you stand and stare at each piece within this collection, then of course you will be rewarded by its scale and colour, but to leave the room having stared at but not seen the pieces, then you will have missed these hidden and intimate moments. When I speak of intimate moments, I of course allude to those aspects of the painting that one can discover for oneself in the breaks between each squeegee of paint.
The abstraction of these paintings stems from the nature of their subject, as they were created whilst Richter listened to the music of John Cage. They are not literally representative, but rather, in their gallery space, they create an ambience of activity beyond their representation. It is as if they act as a blurred window that the audience cannot quite see out of, but that allude to promises of something exciting. This is evident through of the little patches of impasto paint that act as an anomaly to the rest of the squeegeed surface. Without these anomalies, the paintings would just look like waterfalls of meridian and red. If you were to listen to the music of John Cage whilst standing in this room, you would understand their aesthetic value. It is like they are trying to show us something, but they don’t want to give too much of themselves away.
Modern art is given a lot of negative press because its message is often vague or abstract. This does not decrease its value, but merely gives us more of an insight into the minds of the artists, and as a result of this, we become aware of how our own mind engages with this. This is how I perceive ‘Cage’ by Richter. For me, in this room, I feel as if I am standing within a cage, but rather than being trapped, I have enough time in this cell to be able to really engage with hidden squeegeed colours, and to a wider extent, to engage with the short passionate outbursts of the artist whilst indulging in the sound of John Cage. To me, Cage is Richter’s musical mental outlet; his instrument is a squeegee, and his conductor is you.