If you've ever looked in a photo album at some long-dead relative from long ago, you know what it's like to gaze at a Gerhard Richter.
Richter perfectly captures the way we look at things, hazily, momentarily, in a flash, and temporarily "preserves" it, the greatest conjurer's trick of all.
The romantic, pregnant with possibility, is his enemy. What is is, he tells us, and now it's gone. Blow out that candle.
And yet, the hunter has surely been captured by his game. Like Narcissus, Richter has fallen in love with his own creations, and thus, himself.
Where we see cold reality, he sees beauty. Where we see brittle fate, Richter sees certainty and order. Where we see finality, Richter yearns for the eternal return.
How else to explain an elderly man who fathers two young children, preserving one of them, the baby Moritz, who haunts us from the current covers of Artforum and Art in America.
For the existentially obsessed art world, this baby speaks a nameless dread, a captured shadow. For Richter, the closet romantic, this baby is hope with a capital H.
In the gulf between our experience of his work and his own lies Richter's purported genius.
He gave the game away a few years back, when he exhibited his copious Atlas at the Dia Center.
Should the magician show us how he does his tricks? I don't think so. The more Richter reveals of his human self, the less a master he becomes.
So Gerhard, please don't come over for your show at MoMA. Leave us guessing.
Your reputation depends on it.
"Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting" opens at the Museum of Modern Art, Feb. 14-May 21, 2002.