Pioneering American artist Richard Artschwager's long and varied career, spanning from the early 1950s to the first decade of the 21st century, leaves a unique legacy. Working across mediums of painting, collage, sculpture, and installation, his work confounds familiar perceptions of space, form, and objects of everyday life.Read More
Hard to categorise, Artschwager's practice combined the whimsical quotidian references and commercial materials seen in pop art, with the cool detachment of simple, solid geometric forms seen in Minimal and Conceptual art.
Artschwager originally trained to be a microbiologist. After serving in the army in the Second World War, Artschwager studied mathematics and science at Cornell University, receiving a BA in 1948, after which he studied in the studio school of pioneering French purist painter Amédée Ozenfant.
In a lengthy interlude from his artistic development, Artschwager spent most of the 1950s working as a cabinet and furniture-maker—an experience that allowed him to hone skills and interests related to craft and design.
Artschwager's artistic career took another turn in the late 1950s, when a disastrous fire burnt down his workshop. Using industrial materials left over from the fire, the artist began constructing semi-figurative and abstract sculptures.
Richard's Artschwager early artworks capitalised, among other things, on the illusory qualities of Formica, an industrial laminate the artist had become familiar with in his furniture-making of the 1950s. The artist used the material to create an impression of three-dimensional texture, such as woodgrain patterns, on flat surfaces.
In 1964, Artschwager participated in a group show at New York's Leo Castelli Gallery—his first appearance at the gallery, where he would have his first solo show the following year. The exhibition included Table and Chair (1963-1964), which confounds perceptions of space through a two-dimensional representation of a table and chairs on a three-dimensional Formica sculpture.
This confounding of dimensions was further reversed in a series of black and white paintings on Celotex that Artschwager began making in the 1960s. A fibreboard with a rough and deep texture, Celotex a three-dimensional quality to his paintings of found photographs.
Another enduring early motif of Artschwager's are his 'blps'. The oval shapes, described by the artist as resembling a knockwurst sliced longitudinally, served as conceptual focal points, bringing new spatial perceptions to empty and in-between spaces. Artschwager's blps appeared throughout his career—from their genesis in 1967, when Artschwager was teaching at UC Davis in California, to one of his last public art projects before his passing, on the High Line in Manhattan in 2013.
Richard Artschwager's 'blps' have been presented in countless solo and group exhibitions across the United States and overseas, along with later innovations. These include his 'quotation pieces' from the 1970s, which are three-dimensional representations of punctuation.
Artschwager's works have consistently featured in major art events such as documenta, Kassel (in 1968, 1972, 1982, 1987, and 1992). Key solo exhibitions of the artist's later career include Up and Across (2001, Neues Museum, Nuremberg), which travelled to London's Serpentine Gallery (2001); Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna; the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2002); Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany; and Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich (2003). Further solo exhibitions include Up and Down/Back and Forth (2003, Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin); and Hair (2010, Contemporary Art Museum, Saint Louis).
In 2012, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York opened Richard Artschwager! (2012–2013), its first solo retrospective of the artist's work since 1988. The show, which travelled to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, followed by Haus der Kunst in Munich and the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, came to an end shortly before the artist's passing on 9 February 2013.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020
Bob Monk discusses 'Primary Sources' (16 January–23 February 2019), which he curated at Gagosian, New York. The exhibition presents key paintings and drawings by Richard Artschwager, along with source materials from the artist’s personal archive.
While critics have argued that Richard Artschwager was an artist whose works alternated between Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art, there was little doubt he possessed his own singularity removed from the fray. Whether he chose to work with bewildering banal subject matter or media references to sex and violence, Artschwager maintained the...