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Richard Artschwager (1923–2013)

The artist Richard Artschwager has passed away at the age of eighty-nine. Artschwager began making paintings and drawings in the early 1950s, and moved to sculpture in 1960 when he received a commission from the Catholic Church to fabricate portable altars for ships. He began crafting small objects in wood and Formica, considering how to work artistically with utilitarian forms like tables, chairs, and cabinets. Five years later Artschwager had his first solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery, and exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and Museum of Modern Art followed shortly thereafter. He became known as well for his blps, abstract forms that resembled enlarged punctuation marks, which he would install in unexpected places both inside and outside museums. Channeling the enigma characteristic of much of his oeuvre, he said of his blps, “Make a silhouette, but fill the inside, which is nominally empty, with something—something that should be as nothing as black, but something.”

Artschwager is credited with influencing artists ranging from Haim Steinbach and John Armleder to Ashley Bickerton. In 2009, Rachel Harrison paid homage to him at the Venice Biennale, recreating Table with Pink Tablecloth. The Whitney Museum staged a retrospective of his work, “Richard Artschwager!” that closed this past Sunday. Reviewing the show, Roberta Smith wrote of the artist that he was “at different times, identified with Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, without landing squarely in any category.” Added Smith, “Part of his cachet was that no one quite knew what to do with him.”

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