Hans Richter (1888. - 1976.) by Man Ray 1928.
Johannes Siegfried (Hans) Richter was born to a well-off German-Jewish family in 1888 (his mother was a Rothschild). He studied at the Academy of Art in Berlin and the Academy of Art in Weimar.
Early exposure to the Blue Rider group of painters led by Franz Marc and the German Expressionists can be seen in these early works, some of which appeared in the Berlin avant-garde intellectual publications such as Die Aktion and Der Sturm. With the advent of Cubism, Richter saw how abstract forms could express an artistic, or even utopian, vision.
Richter increasingly believed that a better world was possible, one without militarism where radical art could be a transformative force in society. For the rest of his life, Richter sought out the radical in his art.
He was not alone in his views. At a café in Zurich, Switzerland, he was introduced by a friend to Tristan Tzara (Samy Rosenstock), with whom he would become involved in the Dada movement, through which Richter would make lifelong friends with Duchamp and Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky).
Richter formed the Radical Artists Group after the Russian Revolution in 1917.
In 1923 Richter began publishing G, a magazine that drew together the work of artists associated with Dada, De Stijl, and constructivism.
Tzara introduced Richter to the Swedish artist Viking Eggeling, with whom Richter began to collaborate, creating visual scrolls that were “contrapuntal” and resembled musical scores, exploring notions of duality, of the power of opposites such as black and white, positive and negative, not only in drawings and painting but also particularly in experimental film.
It may be hard to appreciate today, but abstract art and film were once revolutionary. To Richter, however, abstraction represented both the intellectual and the human side of art — a purity of form and design that transcended borders and could be accepted as a universal language.
During the 1930s it became increasingly clear that while Richter did not consider himself particularly Jewish, the Nazis did. Richter’s work was included in the infamous Nazi exhibition “Degenerate Art,” and the artist was forced to leave Germany in 1933.
In New York Richter found himself renewing old friendships with Duchamp and Ray, and making new ones with Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell and John Cage. He returned to painting, making large scrolls that revisited old work and made the imagery new, adding elements of amorphous shapes as counterpoints and introducing elements of collage. He also made films.
In the 1960s, he adopted the format of working in series, using a variety of abstract forms and materials to explore his ideas.
So… From Expressionism, at the crossroads of the Dada movement, constructivism and neo-plasticism, he is one of the major players in the avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s, serving as a catalyst between intellectuals and artists from all backgrounds and from all disciplines. Hans Richter also helps to establish a new system of the arts in which the film plays a key role.
For Richter, an artist who always set himself at the cutting edge of his time, his sought-for future is now.