Gerhard Richter’s Portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof
Ulrike Meinhof’s time with the R.A.F was gruesome, violent, and eventually lead to her insanity. She was an influential figure in Germany and made many important appearances. She lived in the spotlight for many years, before and after the creation of the Red Army Faction. In her early life, she joined the Socialist German Student Union and in 1959 joined the banned Communist Part of Germany. She was a well-known West German far-left militant who was clearly outspoken about her views and often wrote about it for Konkret, the magazine which employed her as chief editor. After the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke, a socialist activist, Meinhof wrote an article for Konkret in which she quotes, “Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.” This was an early display of the start of her militant ideology. She was approached by Gudrun Ensslin, asking for aid in releasing her boyfriend, Andreas Baader from police custody. Under her plan, Baader would escape and Meinhof would stay behind for an alibi. During the breakout, Meinhof strayed from the plan and escaped with Baader, therefore officially making herself a suspect. In the next two years, she partook in a string of bank robberies and formed the Baader-Meinhof Group (RAF). After many years of violence and terrorism, the group was finally arrested.
In attempting to understand the meaning behind paintings and portrayals, it is often difficult to differentiate the artist’s intentions from the perspective of the viewer. Gerhard Richter’s paintings of Ulrike Meinhof, as a series, see the gradual change in the images from the beginning as a clear image based off the photograph to a, in the last image, very blurred, blended creation. In the progression of the paintings, we see Meinhof slowly distancing from reality. The once well-known terrorist slowly fading to nothingness. She, in the last image, takes on a much more human form, in which this idealized figure becomes just like the common man. Gerhard Richter’s youth portrait of Ulrike Meinhof paints a different picture, however. She appears young, a rising, new face in the fight against this new Germany. She appears youthful, untroubled by the years of work that she will face later. In this portrait, she is a person, not a character, she has not been demonized or dehumanized by the media. This is a way to identify with her on a much more physical, intimate level. However, in the “Dead” series of paintings, after many years with the RAF, Meinhof has lost any sense of humanity in these images. The series depicting her dead body is the final place she will ever be seen. It’s a gruesome depiction of the fall of an influential person of the time.