Focused and Reversed. Gerhard Richter's "Betty" (1977)

2009–2015/Project Heads: Prof. Dr. Insa Härtel, Prof. Dr. Karl-Josef Pazzini

Project Description
In 1977, Gerhard Richter painted his daughter after a photo. The Betty picture (425/4) which he created is obviously an eye catcher. In this cultural studies research project, the picture itself is comprehended as a research finding. In this regard, the focus of the current study, which analyses this artistic piece in terms of its relationship structures, is on the confusion and irritations which occur repeatedly when it is being observed (e.g. in the context of the documenta XII exhibition). One potential of Betty is contained specifically in the destruction of established cultural phantasms.

The various interpretative facets are summarised under the headings of "violence", "looks", and "change of position", as well as "child and woman":

  • How is Betty linked to aspects of violence and death; and, doing so, to what extent does the person being portrayed refer to the process of depiction itself, which is also always "violent"?
  • How is the look captured here, which is always identifiable in an image yet not in this one, and which is gazing at that of the observer?
  • How are various symbolic places (such as: subject, daughter, parent, cultural figure, viewer) positioned, combined recognisably and staged in an oscillating manner using this piece?
  • To what extent is the provocative aspect of Richter's picture also contained in the fact that it does not omit the moment of the transition from child to adult, or indeed in a potential oscillating between father and man-in-relation-to-the-daughter-in-the-picture?

The thematic addressing of violent and sexual aspects in the imagination of a child who is in the process of becoming a woman seems to succeed emphatically with Betty through the use of artistic means. The image would then be the displayed result of an implicit processing of such transitions; it produces a stumbling – also in the writings about it.

The project publication has been published under the title "B – Blickfänger" (B – Eye Catcher) in the series "Kleiner Stimmungs-Atlas in Einzelbänden" (Small Atlas of Moods in Individual Volumes), Textem-Verlag publishing house, Hamburg.

Prof. Dr. Insa Härtel
IPU Berlin
Stromstr. 3b
10555 Berlin
Email: insa.haertel(at)

Prof. Dr. Karl - Josef Pazzini
University of Hamburg
Von Melle Park 8
20146 Hamburg
Email: pazzini(at)