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With Museums Closed, Coffee-Table Books Bring the Art to You

The second half of the book reproduces images, many of them full-page, of the works you’d have found on the Breuer’s walls. But it’s the essays in the book’s first half that provide the scholarly context and critique that museumgoers wouldn’t have found simply by reading wall plaques. Buchloh, an art history professor at Harvard, addresses the ethics of Richter’s 2014 “Birkenau” paintings and the artist’s career-long preoccupation with representing the Holocaust. The Met curator Brinda Kumar dissects decades’ worth of Richter’s landscapes, including a series called “Transformation” in which a snow-capped mountainscape becomes so abstracted it looks eerily like a sonogram. In his essay “In a Glass, Darkly,” Princeton’s Hal Foster names the “tension” in Richter’s 1967 “4 Panes of Glass,” “between what we know — there are four large identical rectangles in front of us — and what we perceive.” Through this dissonance, Foster argues, in an apt summary of Richter’s entire oeuvre, the artist “stages an almost Cartesian doubt about ‘our apprehension of reality.’”

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