Hans Richter: Encounters at LACMA

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Hans Richter's 1944 film, Dreams Money Can Buy, is an experimental effort made with the collaborative support of other European artists who fled to New York to escape the persecutions of Hitler: There are dream sections created by Fernand Léger, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and others. It was produced in part by Peggy Guggenheim. It is running at its full 83 minutes in a screening room in the exhibition at LACMA, Hans Richter: Encounters. Well-worth watching, it is also a summation of the exhibition's core idea: Richter was in the key places with the key people through the dawn and maturation of 20th century modernist ideas. The exhibition includes his own prints, drawings, paintings and, most impressive, his films but the show also features fine examples of the work of his important friends and collaborators.

Hans Richter, "Dreams that Money Can Buy," 1944-47
Color, 16mm, approx. 83 minutes
© 2013 Hans Richter Estate

Born in 1888 in Berlin, Richter was an artist working in the Expressionist manner when inducted for service in World War I in 1914. Wounded, he was able to leave service in 1916 and went to Zurich. There he landed amidst Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara just as they were conceiving Galerie Dada, where his work was included in the first exhibition. Their ideas changed his attitude towards art. The exhibition includes examples of his early Expressionistic figurative work, which gives way to abstraction after the 1917 Russian Revolution when the ideals of the Constructivists spread across Eastern Europe. The show includes Richter's clean geometric abstract paintings as well as copies of G., his 1923 publication showcasing the development of International Modernism in art and architecture, film and fashion and including the work of Mies van de Rohe.

Hans Richter, "Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black, Gray, and White)," 1943
Oil on canvas
© 2013 Hans Richter Estate
Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

In 1929, Richter was selected as curator of the film section of Fifo, a film and photography exhibition in Stuttgart that traveled through Germany and Austria. He included experimental films by Duchamp, Léger and Charlie Chaplin while the show also featured photographs by Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, László Moholy Nagy and others. The show wound up expanding the view of photography and film as art forms and the presentation of work that was featured at Fifo is a revelation.

By 1933, the rise of Hitler forced Richter out of Germany and in 1941 he managed to emigrate to New York where he taught film at City College for many years. He continued to make films and art until his death in 1976.

Hans Richter, "Portrait of Arp," 1918
Colored pencil on paper
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée national d'art moderne/Centre de création industrielle
Gift of Mrs. Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach, 1973
© 2013 Hans Richter Estate


Sensitively installed by architect Frederick Fisher, the exhibition offers a number of walls where experimental films by Richter, Duchamp, Ray and others are continually shown, including a film by Francis Picabia with René Clair with a funeral procession led by a camel and followers running behind in slow motion. There is an animated sequence by Malevich who had contacted Richter to make a film but who died in 1935. The film was constructed from hidden archival material that was discovered in the 1950s. There are Richter's abstract films based on musical compositions and his 1929 Ghosts Before Breakfast, where bowler hats fly about in animated frenzy, what he called a rebellion of objects against their daily routine.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, "Untitled (Dada head)," 1920
Oil on turned wood
Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d'art moderne/Centre de création industrielle
Purchased in public sale, 2003
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY, by Georges Meguerditchian


While this compelling exhibition illuminates much about Richter, it also provides an overview of a period of extraordinary creative foment in Europe. Organized by LACMA curator Timothy O. Benson, it continues through September 2, when it travels to Centre Pompidou, Metz. For more information, go to LACMA.org.

Banner image: Hans Richter, Dreams that Money Can Buy, 1944-47; color, 16 mm, approx 83 minutes; © Hans Richter Estate