Ema (Nude on a Staircase) (Ema [Akt auf einer Treppe])


Gerhard Richter ( German, 1932 )


Galerie Fred Jahn ( German )


Anthony d'Offay Gallery

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General Description

Gerhard Richter's Ema (Nude on a Staircase), is a photograph of a Richter painting by the same name (at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany), which itself was painted from a slightly blurred Polaroid taken of his then-wife, Ema. An homage to Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, this work simultaneously references art history and Richter's personal history.

Richter's art deals with perception, imagery, and meaning, and takes an extremely broad range of forms in doing so. Richter began to create his mature work in the early 1960s after moving to Düsseldorf from East Germany, taking part in the fertile atmosphere of that city's art academy, a center of the post-World War II avant-garde. At first adapting the ideas of American pop art alongside his colleagues Sigmar Polke and Konrad Lueg (later Fischer), Richter expanded his painted adaptations of family shapshots and other "low-acting" images to embrace a vast range of art-making strategies that mirrored, but did not duplicate, minimalism, conceptualism, photography, and abstraction. In spite of their diversity, Richter's paintings, prints, photographs, and editioned works can all be seen as an investigation into the mechanics and meanings of art.

Since the early 1960s, Richter has turned to myriad artistic forms to raise questions about the twinned issues of seeing and thinking, especially in relation to art and the wider world around us. Richter's wariness of ideologies and diverse artistic approaches tie him to no one school, challenging the notion of an individual, authentic artistic style. Richter's entire career may, in fact, be seen to depend on mechanically produced, supposedly inauthentic images and objects. He deliberately plays with the representation of photographic and painting techniques to make plain that this is a photo of a painting of a photo. In other words, the "models" for Richter's works are not the things themselves, but previous representations of these things. Richter is making pictures of pictures.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Sphere I (Kugel I) (1999.261)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 312.

  • Charles Wylie, DMA unpublished material, 1999.

Fun Facts

  • The DMA is the only public or private collection to house Richter's complete work in editions from 1965 to the present.