Century Old Visions: Richter

“The cinema can fulfill certain promises made by the ancient arts” Hans Richter

Something happened roughly 100 years ago that changed the way we think of ourselves. If our species gets its shit together and we prosper for another millennia or six there are a couple of decades at the turn of the 20th Century that will mark a change in our collective memory. Bach and Mozart were able to document the way a song should sound with pen and ink but we will never hear them play. Their images, like those of every person who died before the middle of the 19th Century, are only captured in reflections in the eyes of painters and sculptors. Photography, recorded sound, and moving pictures gave artist and amateur the ability to accurately capture a sound, an image, or a moment. We’ll never see Lincoln’s assassination but we’ll always see Kennedy’s.

Hans Richter was born in Berlin in 1888. 104 years ago he attended the opening of the Dada exhibit Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon, the first German autumn salon, and it would be pivotal in his development as an artist. Franz Marc, in the foreword to the exhibit catalog, wrote “In other times, art is the yeast that permeates the dough of the world; Such times are remote today. Until they are fulfilled, the artist must keep the same distance from official life.”

Richter produced woodcuts and drawings but was primarily interested in film. When the Nazis took over Germany, he moved to Paris. When they invaded France he came to New York. In 1940 he became a US citizen and went on to be the director of the Institute of Film Techniques at the City College of New York. He wrote that Dada was “not an artistic movement in the accepted sense.” It was “a storm that broke over the world of art as the war did over nations.” 

Richter’s 1921 film, Rhythmus 21, is an early example of his work and one that some, including the filmmaker, consider the first abstract film.

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