Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Deceased--Richard Artschwager

Richard Artschwager
December 26th, 1923 to February 9th, 2013

"Richard Artschwager dies; painter and sculptor was 89"

Artschwager created sculptures carefully crafted from wood and often covered in Formica. His paintings, mostly limited to black acrylic, were applied to cheap materials and derive from photos.


Christopher Knight

February 11th, 2013

Los Angeles Times

Richard Artschwager, an artist who turned his apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker into a distinctive approach to making sculptures and paintings that defy easy categorization, died Saturday in Albany, N.Y., following a brief illness. He was 89.

A retrospective of Artschwager's work, which travels to the UCLA Hammer Museum in June, closed Feb. 3 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan. It was the Whitney's second Artschwager retrospective and will be the third to be shown in Southern California. The first was co-organized by the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979, while the Whitney's 1988 retrospective was also seen that year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Artschwager is primarily known for three unique bodies of work. His sculptures, carefully crafted from wood and often covered in a veneer of ordinary Formica, establish a subtle tension between the conventional utility of furniture and the perceived uselessness of art. His paintings, mostly limited to black acrylic applied to a cheap building material known as Celotex board, frequently derive from photographs, but they are given unexpected material heft with the addition of heavy, light-reflective metal frames.

Finally, an installation aspect took the form of small, lozenge-shaped pieces of black wood or vinyl decals that the artist inserted into unexpected architectural places. The shape recalls the space to be filled in with black pencil or ink on a computerized questionnaire like a standardized exam or election ballot, or the hole in an old IBM punch-card. Artschwager called these abstract lozenges "Blps" — pronounced "blips" — and their subtle references suggest that a meaning or an answer is located someplace else. He deployed them like perceptual black holes that draw curious energy from the spaces around them.

What unites Artschwager's disparate sculptures, paintings and Blps is their exploration of the vagaries of perception. A viewer is never quite certain of exactly what he is looking at — including the object's status as art. For instance, merely through different colored shapes of laminate veneer, a plain waist-high cube might also describe a solid table, the empty space beneath it and the thin tablecloth on top of it.

Coming of age in the 1950s, when emotion was at the core of Abstract Expressionist painting and sculpture and the purity of different mediums was paramount, Artschwager instead turned to sense perception to make art that crossed established boundaries. Furniture was a touchstone for the development of his work.

"Handle" (1962) was the breakthrough piece. A rectangle 4 feet wide and 30 inches high is beautifully crafted from a cylinder of honed and polished wood. Although three-dimensional like a sculpture, it hangs on the wall like a painting. Made of wood, like a painting's traditional frame, it only encloses a view of the wall behind it. Meant to be grasped, as any handle would, it cannot be touched because it is a work of art.

Artschwager was getting a "handle" on the direction his art would take for the next 50 years. Painting, sculpture, context and perception seem to collapse into themselves in this eccentric object, as the old categories are being erased. Qualities that would soon be attributed to Pop, Minimal and Conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s are all present.

"Portrait I," also from 1962, further elaborated his interests. An ordinary bedroom dresser is topped by a framed picture of a slightly grinning man. The wood grain of the dresser is hand-painted, its swirls a pastiche of Abstract Expressionist gestures, while the photo-based painted portrait is blurred and out of focus, defeating the commemorative purpose.

"Portrait II," made the following year, accelerated his evolution. This dresser has no drawers, forsaking function, while the face in the picture has been replaced by a solid plane of Formica that is the same material from which the dresser/pedestal is made.

Formica was patented in 1913 as an electrical insulation substitute "for mica," a silicate that resists electrical current, but after World War II it gained widespread popularity as a decorative laminate. Artschwager applied its low-art properties to high-art purposes. He exploited the plastic's artificial pictorial qualities, since it imitates not only natural materials such as stone and wood but the brushwork in abstract paintings.

Artschwager often used Formica that looks like burl wood, a deformity of the grain that grows in trees under stress. Burl also finds a wry precedent in the elaborate wood veneers of 18th century aristocratic French furniture, widely considered a pinnacle of achievement in the European history of decorative art. Applied to modern geometric forms like cubes and plinths, Artschwager made sculptures that have the strange sense of being ordinary objects that are simultaneously pictures of objects.

As a support for paintings that often focus on architectural subjects chosen from reproductions in newspapers, magazines and books, Artschwager used Celotex board rather than canvas. Celotex is a textured building material that, like the original Formica, is also used as insulation. Its random pattern of surface whorls captures little puddles of thinned acrylic paint, blurring any image painted on it. Artschwager used the property to advantage.

"Untitled (Tract House)," from 1967, one of eight Artschwager works in the Museum of Contemporary Art's collection, is emblematic. An ordinary, boxy middle-class house fills the image, which is taken from a black and white photograph. The Celotex makes it as fuzzy as a TV picture on the fritz. The bulky silver frame gives the dissolving scene some heft, but something also seems askew. It takes a moment to realize that the composition's perspective is out of whack.

Follow the sidewalk leading to the home's entry, and the trajectory of the path just misses the stairs and the front door, landing in the bushes and bumping into a blank wall. The more you attempt to reconcile the domestic entry, the more the image of home seems to fall apart. The eccentric painting pictures the convention that says you can't go home again.

"Untitled (Destruction)" (1980), also in MOCA's collection, shows a tall building midway into an explosive demolition, apparently being razed to make way for something new. As the big, once sturdy building falls apart, your eyes struggle to pull together the fuzzy scene into a coherent whole. In a metaphoric struggle between life and death, collapse and construction, creation and ruin are held in pictorial tension.

In the 1990s Artschwager made an extensive series of sculptures in the form of shipping crates. On one hand they acknowledged the new internationalization of art, where at any given moment thousands of artworks (and artists) are in transit to someplace else. On the other, the sealed boxes convert the gallery or museum where they are shown into a mausoleum — a tomb for art that is ostensibly hidden inside. The container holds the hidden meaning, or else it is the visible meaning itself.

Richard Ernst Artschwager was born Dec. 26, 1923, in Washington, D.C., the son of German and Ukrainian parents. When his father contracted tuberculosis, the family relocated to Las Cruces, N.M.

In 1941 he enrolled at Cornell University to study science, but he was drafted into the Army to serve in Europe during World War II. Following the war, during a 1946 posting in Vienna, he met and married Elfriede Wejmelka, his first of four wives. Three marriages ended in divorce.

Discharged the following year, Artschwager returned to Cornell to finish his undergraduate degree. Encouraged by Elfriede, he moved to New York City to study at the studio school established by Amédée Ozenfant, a French expatriate artist. To support his new family, he set art aside in the early 1950s and took up a variety of odd jobs, including lathe operator, baby photographer and bank clerk. Eventually he decided to design, make and sell furniture. A devastating studio fire in 1958 destroyed his inventory.

In the wake of the disaster, Artschwager began to reconsider his abandoned plan to be an artist, and he used his experience as a cabinetmaker to explore the possibilities. He was 38 when he made "Handle" and "Portrait I," the works that announced the beginning of his rapidly maturing art. He began to be included in group exhibitions and had his first solo exhibition as a mature artist at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1965. His first Los Angeles solo exhibition was at Eugenia Butler Gallery in 1970.

Artschwager showed at numerous galleries and museums in the United States and internationally, including at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and at the Venice Bienale. His final gallery exhibition last October at Gagosian Gallery in Rome featured five laminate sculptures of upright and grand pianos. Utilizing the Formica patterns to make references to early 20th century artists as diverse as Kazimir Malevich and Henri Matisse, they also made a retrospective nod to his first piano sculpture in 1965.

Artschwager, who lived in the small village of Hudson, N.Y., is survived by his wife, Ann Sebring; his children Eva, Clara and Augustus Theodore, and by his sister, Margarita.

"Richard Artschwager, Painter and Sculptor, Dies at 89"


Ken Johnson

February 10th, 2013

The New York Times

Richard Artschwager, a painter and sculptor whose witty, contradictory mixing of artistic genres made him one of the most critically admired artists to emerge in the 1960s, died early Saturday in Albany. He was 89.

His death, at a hospital, followed a recent stroke, his wife, Ann, said.

The death also followed by less than a week the closing of a career retrospective of Mr. Artschwager’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, his second to be mounted there. He lived in Hudson, N.Y., in Columbia County.

At a time when most artists worked in clearly determined styles, Mr. Artschwager slyly confounded the usual categories. His most famous sculpture, “Table With Pink Tablecloth,” from 1964, is something of a cross between Pop Art and a Minimalist cube by Donald Judd: a box neatly veneered with pieces of colored Formica to create the image of a wooden table with a square pink tablecloth draped on it.

Mr. Artschwager went on to produce variations on the forms of chairs, tables, doors and other domestic objects in styles ranging from severely geometric to surrealistically distorted.

In the late 1960s, he invented an abstract form he called a “blp,” a small, black, oblong shape that he would recreate in various materials and install in unexpected places to punctuate, mysteriously, gallery and museum spaces. He also placed dozens of “blps,” in the form of reliefs, stencils or decals, outside museums for viewers to go hunting for or stumble upon. Some are to be found on the elevated High Line park in Lower Manhattan near the site of the Whitney’s future home.

Mr. Artschwager’s paintings were often paradoxical. He painted black and white copies of found photographs — group portraits, pictures of buildings and other anonymous images — on textured Celotex panels, a common building material. Ostentatious frames made of painted wood, Formica or polished metal were usually part of the total piece.

He once said: “Sculpture is for the touch, painting is for the eye. I wanted to make a sculpture for the eye and a painting for the touch.”

Richard Ernst Artschwager was born on Dec. 26, 1923, in Washington. His father, a German immigrant, was a botanist, trained at Cornell University; his mother, a Ukrainian immigrant, was an artist who studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington and at the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1935, the family moved to Las Cruces, N.M., a better climate for the artist’s father, who had tuberculosis.

Like his father, Mr. Artschwager studied at Cornell, concentrating on mathematics and sciences, though he was deeply interested in art. Before completing his degree he was drafted into the Army in 1944 and saw combat in Europe, suffering a slight wound at the Battle of the Bulge. Afterward he was assigned to counterintelligence in Vienna, where he met and, in 1946, married his first wife, Elfriede Wejmelka.

Back in the United States after the war, Mr. Artschwager completed his bachelor’s degree at Cornell but soon, with his wife’s strong encouragement, decided to become an artist. He moved to New York and began attending the Studio School of the painter Amédée Ozenfant, who, along with Le Corbusier Foundation in Paris, had founded a form of late Cubism called Purism.

By then the couple had a child, and Mr. Artschwager supported his family as a bank clerk and then a furniture maker.

In the early ’50s he stopped making art and went into business building furniture until a fire destroyed his workshop in 1958. Resuming art making, he had his first exhibition — of paintings and watercolors of Southwestern landscapes — at the Art Directions Gallery in New York.

In 1960, an exhibition of assemblages by the sculptor Mark di Suvero inspired Mr. Artschwager to begin using his woodworking skills to make his own sculpture. A year later, a photograph picked up on the street prompted him to start making paintings based on black and white photographs.

A big break came when he sent, unsolicited, a note and slides to the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York’s leading showcase for new art. The gallery quickly took him on for a group show that included Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. He remained with Castelli for 30 years.

It was at the Castelli gallery, in 1965, that Mr. Artschwager had the first show of work that was recognizably his own. During the ensuing decades he participated in many important international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale and Documenta, in Kassel, Germany.

The Whitney produced its first Artschwager retrospective in 1988-89. It later traveled to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris and Düsseldorf. His last solo exhibition with Gagosian Gallery was last fall at its branch in Rome featuring sculptures of pianos.

“Early and late, his work stood out for its blunt, mute weirdness,”
Holland Cotter wrote in The New York Times in reviewing the recent Artschwager retrospective at the Whitney. A 1963 sculpture, “Portrait II,” for example, resembles a bedroom dresser with no drawers and a sheet of Formica where a mirror might be. The table in “Table Prepared in the Presence of Enemies” (1993) “looks like a low-rise guillotine,” Mr. Cotter wrote.

He added: “Violence is implicit in a lot of Mr. Artschwager’s art, which may be the most intriguing thing about it, the element that gives bite to what would otherwise pass for Magrittean whimsy.”

Mr. Artschwager’s political views were less apparent. In 2003, he painted three identically framed portraits, of a blank President George W. Bush, a smiling Osama bin Laden and a grim-looking one of himself. “Each painting looks cracked, creviced and soiled, as if just dug up from rubble,” Mr. Cotter observed.

Mr. Artschwager was married four times, the first three marriages ending in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Ann Sebring, he is survived by his daughters Eva Artschwager and Clara Persis Artschwager; a son, Augustus Theodore Artschwager; a sister, Margarita Kay, and a grandson.

David Nolan, whose Manhattan gallery has shown drawings by Mr. Artschwager, said the artist had recently exhibited new paintings and works on paper that he created on a return to New Mexico, inspired in part by the colors of the landscape there he had known so well as a boy.

A lecture by  Jennifer Gross of Yale University...


"Richard Artschwager, Whose Multifarious Work Defied Categorization, Dies at 89"


Andrew Russeth

February 9th, 2013


Richard Artschwager, who crafted a protean and enigmatic body of work over the course of more than half a century, has died. He was 89. David Nolan Gallery and Gagosian Gallery, which both presented his work in New York, confirmed his death.

Given Mr. Artschwager’s thrillingly diverse output, it’s difficult to pin his fame to any particular series. He made haunting grayscale paintings, often of domestic scenes and architecture, on textured Celotex and sculptures with Formica—“the great ugly material,” he said of the stuff—and wood that often resembled functional objects like pianos, chairs and tables, betraying the artist’s work as a furniture maker in the 1950s. But he also made curious little pieces that he called “blps,” knockwurst-shaped works that he sometimes installed throughout the city. All the while, he handily sidestepped the reigning art movements of the day, indulging elements of Minimalism (in his sculptures) and Pop art (in his paintings) while playfully ignoring their strictures.

Just a week ago, a major retrospective of his work—titled “Richard Artschwager!”—ended its run at the Whitney Museum. As part of the show, “blps” were installed throughout West Chelsea, where the Whitney will open its new museum in 2015. The show was his second career-spanning show at the museum, and will travel to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles later this year.

He had major shows at Paris’s Centre Pompidou in 1989, Vienna’s MAK in 2002 and the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2003, and made multiple appearances in numerous important international exhibitions, like the Venice Biennale and Documenta, in Kassel, Germany, which he was featured in an astounding five times.

Richard Ernst Artschwager was born in Washington, D.C., and moved with his family in the 1930s to New Mexico, which he continued to visit. (Drawings he made there were the subject of a 2012 show at Nolan.) He attended Cornell before joining the military and fighting in World War II. He was injured in the Battle of the Bulge. Later, he did intelligence work for the United States.

After returning to New York in the late 1940s, he graduated from Cornell, studied with the Cubist painter Amedée Ozenfant and worked as a baby photographer. He later worked as a furniture maker, though he left that profession in 1958 after a fire ravaged his studio in downtown Manhattan, committing himself more fully to art. A series of shows followed, and he had his first exhibition with Leo Castelli in 1965. He would be represented by the dealer for years.

In a statement, Gagosian Gallery, which presented its first solo show with Mr. Artschwager in 2002, said that “Richard forged a richly maverick path, confounding the genres and limits of art while forever changing how we view and understand space and the everyday objects that occupy it.”

He is survived by his wife, Ann Artschwager, and three children.


Richard Artschwager [Wikipedia]

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