Gerhard Richters 15-painting cycle, October 18, 1977 is arguably one of the most important works of art of the second half of the 20th century. Now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the collection of black and white oil paintings drew from ubiquitous photographs of the Baader-Meinhof era. Angering the German public when it first appeared in the late 1980s, it has become recognized as Richter’s masterwork.
Painting nr 1Youth Portrait (Jugendbildnis)
1988. Oil on Canvas 72.4 cm X 62 cm
Youth Portrait is derived from a photo of Ulrike Meinhof that had been mistakenly identified by Richter and others as a youth “glamour” photo of Meinhof. According Robert Storr’s MOMA book about the exhibit, Meinhof’s former husband Klaus Rainer Röhl indicates that the photo was actually a publicity photo taken in anticipation of the 1970 release of her telefilm “Bambule,” when Meinhof was 36 years old.
Painting nr 2, 3
Arrest 1 (Festnahme 1- 2)1988. Oil on Canvas92 cm X 126.5 cm
These two paintings are derived from images seared into the minds of most Germans who came of age in the 1970s and before. They are from the capture of Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Holger Meins in a Frankfurt neighborhood on June 1, 1972. All of Germany was riveted to their television sets that day as the terrorists were holed up for the better part of a day in a garage. Raspe was captured early, but Baader and Meins managed to escape into the garage. A sniper shot Baader in the leg, convincing Meins to surrender. He is told to strip naked, ensuring that he held no grenades or guns under his clothes. Later the police storm the garage, pulling a wounded Baader out. Most Germans alive at the time can still picture a wounded Baader being pulled in a gurney, still wearing his fashionable Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Painting nr 4, 5, 6
Confrontation 1(Gegenüberstellung 1)
1988. Oil on Canvas 112 cm X 102 cm
These three images are of Gudrun Ensslin, girlfriend of Andreas Baader, and the true female leader of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. The images come from full-body images taken when Ensslin was in police custody. I believe that they are from photos taken of Ensslin as she is entering the courthouse built on the the grounds of Stammheim prison, especially for the Baader-Meinhof trial.
Painting nr 7
Hanged (Erhängte)1988. Oil on Canvas 201 cm X 140 cm
This haunting image is of the dead body of Gudrun Ensslin, hanging from her Stammheim prison cell. It is the first image of the cycle to directly depict events from October 19, 1977, also known as Death Night. According to the official version of events, upon hearing of the storming of a hijacked Lufthansa plane by German GSG-9 counterterrorism forces, Ensslin took a speaker wire, threaded it through the wire mesh of her window, formed a noose, put it around her neck, and kicked aside the chair that she was standing upon
Painting nr 8
Cell(Zelle)1988. Oil on Canvas201 cm X 140 cm
This painting depicts Andreas Baader’s cell in Stammheim prison as it was found after Death Night. Among many, the popular image of Baader was of a poorly educated poseur, more interested in violence than theory. Though Baader may have come to his revolutionary career without a formal background in Marxist thought, by the end of his life his knowledge had become deep and real. The hundreds of books lining Baader’s shelves were a testament to Baader’s intellect.
Painting nr 9
Record Player (Plattenspieler)1988.
Oil on Canvas62 cm X 83cm
This painting is based on a photograph of Andreas Baader’s phonograph taken after his death. Left on the phonograph is side two of Eric Clapton’s “There’s One in Every Crowd.”
Painting nr10 , 11 Man Shot Down 1-2 (Erschossener 1)
1988. Oil on Canvas100.5 cm X 140.5 cm
These two paintings feature alternate versions of an image of a dead Andreas Baader in his Stammheim prison cell. The official version of Baader’s death claims that sometime in the night of October 17 and early in the morning of October 18, 1977 (between 11:00pm and 7:00am), in cell 719 Baader removed his carefully hidden 7.65 caliber FEG pistol from its hiding place (it was among the dozens of illegal items smuggled into the “most secure prison in the world” by Baader-Meinhof lawyers). He shot two bullets: one at the wall and one into a pillow, to leave the impression of a fight. Then he held the gun behind his neck, put his thumb on the trigger, and pulled it, blowing a hole through the top of his forehead.
This official explanation has never been accepted by many on the left.