At first glance, this modest pencil drawing appears to be a simple image of a teacup—a memento, perhaps, of a quiet morning at a kitchen table, in the manner of a traditional still-life. On closer inspection, however, it unravels and becomes something else entirely. The flat tones, sharp contours, and regular shading suggest that the artist's source for the drawing was a photograph of a cup rather than a cup itself. Indeed, no simple sketch taken from life, 4.6.1999 is an image of an image. Most likely derived from one of Richter's own snapshots, the drawing bears the pictorial imprint of the impersonal and mechanical language of the camera. The erased marks that run across the center of the sheet further complicate the drawing. Slicing the motif into strips, these striations disrupt the "transparency" of the image, calling special attention to the process of the drawing's making. Like the use of photographic source material, these erasures register the artist's hand negatively, as something absent or canceled.
The tension between the apparent simplicity of the motif and the pregnant implications of the means by which it was rendered points to the critical charge in Richter's art, which over the last four decades has probed the myriad ways in which images are made and perceived. Working in many different mediums and styles (indeed, this drawing was executed concurrently with another work done completely abstractly), Richter has consistently examined the contingency of representation, fashioning a body of work of tremendous variety, versatility, and import. By underscoring the constructed nature of illusionism, Richter's work invites viewers to reflect on how they perceive the world, and, in the process, invests his personal visions with public implications.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 360.