Some of the October 18 paintings
Gerhard Richter, October 18, 1977, 1988, oil on canvas, 15 paintings.
A human queue wound itself ten times around
the Neue Nationalgallerie
when the pictures came to Berlin.
Gerhard Richter’s Baader-Meinhof paintings,
fifteen in all, based on photographs, a sacral
hanging, hung hanged.
It looked as if the queue would levitate the building.
I wanted to see Gudrun.
To be close and framed, to be close and taken in.
First Jugendbild, a painting of a child, just a child,
an extremely young Ulrike Meinhof, anyway.
She could have been me when I owned
that green suede coat.
The Miracle Commission is at work.
Some try to press their lips to the canvas.
I see Gudrun Ensslin in the jail pictures.
They were in the papers, and Gerhard Richter copied,
magnified, and painted them.
First the one cheek, then the other cheek.
Did she turn around too abruptly for the police, there in the hallway,
Did she turn around as if she were a model for the camera?
Gudrun should have been a saint, although I don’t know
the rules for canonization, I know only that she
and what more do they want, healing?
The Saint Commission and the Miracle Commission
are at work.
To be close, to be shamed, to turn. Hang. Die.
Thrown to the floor.
Gerhard Richter, was she a friend?
In my fantasy maybe a lover?
A person, alive in Berlin.
Via copy she became painting.
In the final image her head is held as if
These are the most precious paintings that exist
in our time.
I have a few questions about this scene.
The whorls of people around a building.
A river. A city.
And how was I to get into the building?
The eternal mystery of art is that it is work
to get in.
Why are these pictures so attractive to us.
Guilt rumbles up. Guilt!
What is happening.
I have further questions.
How much do the pictures weigh and how much did she weigh?
Do they heal?
Can pictures wake the dead?
Do pictures weep? Does blood trickle from them?
Will milk soon be secreted?
What about hunger strikes, forced feedings?
And will anyone come to drive out evil and send it on its way?
And all those who doubt that a rose can bloom
on Christmas Eve and that Europe will become the world again.
Do they believe in art?
Der Stoff, aus dem die Kunst entsteht.
I know that if you are to understand this poem,
I will have to explain about qualities,
adaptations, and love affairs,
just as luminous and radiant as a woman
who turns around in a hallway at the police station.
Death-marked, flashed, but painted with the most delicate whiskers,
with effort, with man hands,
with romantic longing, fear, disgust, be saint for one
day, saint in a car, saint on a floor, saint on posters.
The canvas turned silverish, gray-green, grisaille.
Erased, nearly vanished is she, secret is she.
Can grey light. Grief can illuminate. But angels can lose themselves.
A butter knife was lost in my catalogue.
The fat penetrated the pages like a brazen
encounter with Gudrun, I would say.
The knife falls to the floor.
This is a little record player.
It’s called Plattenspieler.
Something lies under the turntable, says Gerhard Richter.
Like an unborn poem, the sly mechanism is something else.
Do you think too that this must be the record player that belonged to
Andreas Baader in jail?
Nothing turns, it isn’t time that swells onward
it is death’s dread. No one but death wailed in these grooves,
plus there’s a B-side.
My pictures are smarter than I am, says Gerhard Richter,
but with this record player in the room,
everyone can feel stupid.
I’d rather sing «Wonderful Tonight,» read The Little Prince,
the part about the elephant inside the python.
Records provoke maternal feeling, don’t you agree?
Eric Clapton isn’t singing here, it wasn’t he who
lay on the floor. It was Andreas Baader.
Everything I do, I do for the last time. Everything I do, I do
for the first time, and what I see is what you show me.
This is a picture of a pistol.
Cecilie Løveid, tr. Siri Hustvedt
From Vandreutstillinger (Kolon forlag, 2017)