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Is this a photograph? What if I say that it’s a painting? Yes, it is a painting, made to resemble a photograph out of focus.
The reference for this painting is Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp. The history of this painting is very particular: Marcel Duchamp at the beginning of his career was identifying his art as Cubism. With this painting he actually detached from Cubism because he focused on movement, instead of on only shapes. Keeping a cubist structure, he tried to represent the different phases of a nude woman descending a staircase, entering in a situation of conflict with the other cubists. This work was refused at a cubist exhibition due to this reason: the movement was more a characteristic of Futurism than Cubism (although the myth says that it was too explicit due to the nudity, but this is not true: many paintings were depicting nudes without problems). Duchamp’s obsession with the depiction of movement will be totally satisfied afterwards, with the Op Art and the Kinetic Art (later expanded by Video Art).
From this reference, then, comes this painting by Richter, which contains the same concept with a different result. He used the possible output of a camera to represent the figure’s movement, but his technique was painting, not photographing as it may seem. In the painting we can almost see the woman in the action of descending the staircase, bringing Duchamp’s will to the next level.
In a way, he was demonstrating that after photography painting was not dead, painting had not lost what it still had to say.