PRINT September 1983


Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our conception of them.
—Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN art and life / The interrelation between physical presence and diagrammatic representation
In her article “ABC Art” in the October–November 1965 issue of Art in America, Barbara Rose illustrated Richard Artschwager’s work among that of the Minimalists. Certainly the following general characteristics of Minimalism could apply to his work: “He [John Ashberry] concludes that ‘what matters is the artist’s will to discover, rather than the manual skills he may share with hundreds of other artists. Anybody could have discovered America, but only Columbus did.’ Such a downgrading of talent, facility, virtuosity, and technique, with its concomitant elevation of conceptual power, coincides precisely with the attitude of the artists I am discussing.” But to Donald Judd, a hardcore Minimalist, Artschwager’s work was not dismantled enough. In Arts magazine in March 1965 he criticized Artschwager’s furniture/sculpture because of its obvious references and the divisions within the pieces. Judd favored maintaining the sense of the whole through singleness of shape and plainness. He also disapproved of the filling in of the space underneath the furniture though he assumed, according to his Minimalist viewpoint, that Artschwager did it “probably to maintain the simple shape.” That might be true, button this review Judd completely disregarded the ambiguous shift in the work between two and three dimensions, and between painterly illusion and obdurate physical presence. Curiously enough he seized on the notion of an object that is neither painting nor sculpture in another article (“Specific Objects,” Arts Yearbook 8, 1965) in which he mentioned Artschwager. This article begins, “Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other . . . The disinterest in painting and sculpture is a disinterest in doing it again, not [a disinterest] in it as it is being done by those who developed the last advanced versions.” This had been Artschwager’s problem, too, which had led him to give up making art from 1951 to 1959 after having studied with Amédée Ozenfant. In the “auto chronology” he wrote in 1979 for the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, he said “Studying the New York School (outside) and the School of Paris (inside) made some deep impressions, the telling one being an increasing conviction that nothing much could be added to these estimable bodies of art.”

When Artschwager decided to commit himself again to art he chose the subject he was most familiar with, furniture. Since 1953 he had been a cabinetmaker and since 1956 he had operated a workshop that mass-produced furniture, bound to “an ethic of the simple and the well-made . . . The art had been put on the shelf.” Then, “after I had a very bad fire in my shop I thought that if I wanted some time to do some art I must simply do it—whether it came out good or bad—for myself.”1 To become an artist Artschwager had to give up an obligation to “function” and “service,” so familiar to him through an intellectual background characterized by an 18th-century agnostic rationalism with its built-in scientific skepticism and the awareness of art in an Aristotelian sense, in which experience is trusted by “keeping ears and eyes open.”

Artschwager considers art “a hard-nosed view.” “I was very aware that in my workshop I was in a different place from the artist’s studio,” he recalls. “It was perverse to make art there, but I realized that art does not have a privileged position. It functions the same way as everything around it.”

Artschwager started by basing his art, as he had his furniture, on “the relation between the thing, its maker/consumer, and the space they occupy.” Furniture is nearly always in context: “You can put it almost anywhere where human beings are around without its being irrelevant.” Placing himself in the position of a manufacturer/artist, he wanted the furniture/sculpture to have the same effect as the furniture and to bring out that context as well. For example, a chair/sculpture should become as much a focus of attention as a chair does when one wants to sit down. In his autochronology Artschwager summarized:

The first in-factory works, constructivist in tone, were made of identical sheets of plywood cutoffs joined into stacks, fans and baffles (1961). These enterprises gradually swallowed up the more noble techniques and materials of the workshop which now had mapped into it a studio (1962). The context of the factory formed the work as did then the ultimate destination of the factory product (?) [sic]. Useful furniture with an overlay of representation appeared from 1962 to 1967; more often than not this bridge was made by the use of Formica and similar laminates which the artist discovered underfoot.

John Ruskin wrote in The Lamp of Beauty that no good artist can be “thoroughly enjoyed but by getting into his humour, and remaining long enough under his influence to understand his whole mode and cast of thought.” This applies to Artschwager, who concerns himself with the state of things that affect the mind and with things as instruments of the mind. The appearance of his objects depends on how they are perceived. “It was Formica which touched it off. . . . There was no color at all, and it was very hard and shiny, so that it was a picture of a piece of wood. If you take that and make something out of it, then you have an object. But it’s a picture of something at the same time it’s an object.”2

By making visual perception the most important element of his work Artschwager rearranges our habits of seeing and, insidiously and in a paradoxical manner, displaces the visual meaning of his objects, ending up with something that is neither sculpture, nor painting, nor furniture. This effect is enforced by the imposition of a mental image on a retinal one, which shifts the focus of our visual perception from a painterly illusion to an unyielding physical presence and back again. This ambiguity of the perception of the object makes the furniture/sculpture interpretable in a number of ways, and allusive as well. As Artschwager points out, this triggers off involvement: “I use visual perception as a way of bringing people into my space.” At the same time this involvement is undercut and the accessibility of the piece is blocked by an aggressively sharp-edged geometrical appearance and a resistant machinelike surface made of Formica, whose patterns are frozen in motion. Artschwager uses contradictory elements, perpetuating the conflicts: movement is absent because of the symmetrical order and stability of the forms; disorganization is built-in, tending to destabilize the structure.

Table and Chair, 1963–64, built in wood veneered with Formica, has a boxlike appearance. The shift between two and three dimensions takes place in the setting of floor and ceiling, up and down, distant and near. From the front Table and Chair can be looked at in two ways, as one concentrates on either the volumes or on a diagram, projected onto them, which is the representation of a table and a chair as well as the space underneath. If the boxlike volumes prevail over the diagrammatical painterly illusion, the white planes provide physical presence and stability. But if the painterly illusion of table and chair dominates, then the white planes of the tabletop, the top of the chair, and the solidified space beneath the table and the front of the chair fuse with the white gallery wall in a two-dimensional background for the diagram. As one walks around the piece, the same kind of interaction continues. With the chair/sculpture, an object more intimately related to the human body than the table because of the act of sitting, the friction between diagram and mass is most extreme. The seat is not built in white like the tabletop but in a reddish brown Formica, and the space underneath the back of the seat is left open “to give it some air,” counteracting the sides which are covered with Formica. Because the sculpture is the size of a normal table and chair, there is all the more invitation to sit down. Artschwager elaborates on this difference between the physical act of making a construction or painting and the visual perception of an object: “I make a chair, draw a diagram as instructions for making the chair to be followed very correctly; there are no diversions. Another way is to look at a chair and see nuances of light and dark, something you see to be transferred on canvas.”

In solidifying the “air” and in unifying the representation of wooden parts, upholstery, and air through the use of Formica, material differences are erased; the elements are removed from their contexts and neutralized, taking away the distraction of the artist’s touch and emphasizing the entire cluster of boxlike volumes. The overlay of simple diagrammatical representation of the table and chair on the boxlike volumes intensifies the closeness between geometric forms and furniture. The Formica edges are sharply cut, stressing the linearity of the diagram. The diagrammatical representation becomes in its abstracted generalization a recollection of a table and chair on their shadow/image in the Platonic sense, while at the same time a painterly effect is suggested by the warm reddish brown mahogany color of the diagram and the ivory Formica in which the space underneath the chair and table is solidified.

Formica itself is a photographic rendering of real wood. On one side of the table and the back side of the chair the parts are made in a cool gray Formica and the space underneath in a dead white. These sides contrast like a black and white photograph with the warm tones on the other sides. An effect of shadow is produced, suggesting the existence of a constant source of light, independent of other lighting conditions, which separates the piece from other objects in the room.

Contrary ways of seeing are implicit in the composite structures of Artschwager’s furniture/sculpture, resulting in visual “double entendres.” In Table with Pink Tablecloth, 1964, dark olive green planes underneath a diagram of a beige table and pink cloth fuse into the sides of a box through the common use of Formica, emphasizing the ambiguity between the boxlike volume and the painterly illusion of table and cloth. It appears to be a painted box comparable to the Brillo boxes that Andy Warhol mass-produced, which can be presented singly or stacked up in rows. Because of its industrial character this furniture/sculpture could also lend itself to production in large quantities, but Artschwager leaves the issue ambiguous by keeping the works unique. Both Artschwager and Warhol reverse the Bauhaus program. Though some of their works closely resemble useful objects, both artists champion nonfunctionality, questioning the utilitarian role of these objects in society. As Artschwager wrote, “I’m making objects for non-use. . . . By killing off the use part, non-use aspects are allowed living space, breathing space.”3

In Table with Pink Tablecloth the top of the box/table is covered by a pink Formica “tablecloth” which is set on top of the table at a diagonal, so that the covers—which “hang” over the edges of the table—form triangles between the table legs. At the same time they become part of the diagram of table and cloth projected upon the sides of the box—the corners of which form simultaneously both the table legs and the edges of the box. The switch between two and three dimensions is handled by the dark olive green space underneath the diagram of the table and cloth, since it is a depth-reversing image and can be perceived as either an advancing or a receding plane. If the dark green color of the space beneath the table stands out, the eye perceives the table coming out from behind the dark plane and the cloth as hanging over it, accentuating the physical presence of the pink tablecloth and the part it plays in producing a shift between two and three dimensions. There is yet another way to perceive the piece. If the dark green plane recedes, the furniture/sculpture may have the character of a magician’s tricky prop, which might be a table with pink tablecloth or its optical illusion placed over a box which conceals many other boxes. Artschwager has been compared to the Surrealists. The overall effect of his work is more like that of what Freud termed “dream-thoughts,” in which there is no way of deciding at first glance whether an element that admits of a contrary is present in the dream as a positive or a negative.

Again and again Artschwager is capable of showing the perfectly strange in the perfectly familiar, as, for example, in Chair, 1963; Swivel Chair, 1964; Untitled, 1966; and Tower, 1980. All of these pieces approximate specific functions of stereotypical chairs. The Chair of 1963 has a particular style; it is modeled after an existing Victorian chair. Swivel Chair has only the character of that kind of chair—only the potential of revolving on its base. The form of Tower III is determined by its reference to its function as a confession chair; this piece specifically deals with sculpture as a spatial situation. “A confession chair is a special arrangement for two people to meet in a public and at the same time in a private way,” Artschwager notes. But the private area is exposed here. The curtain hiding the priest’s seat is left out; there’s no confession being made. The exception in the group is Untitled, 1966, which, as its lack of title might suggest, is much less of a chair than the others. This work has no divisions and is far removed from its origin, containing only the recollected diagram of a chair in profile. The rigidity of the abstract boxlike form is counteracted by the painterly quality of the brown Formica surface, which has a marbleized baroque pattern that could be an enlargement of “two inches of a Rubens painting,” as Artschwager says. All four of these works question function with their absurdist overtones—by being too low, too high, too slanted, or too hard to sit in comfortably. In accentuating their nonuse value they may turn into objects of desire, into art.

The construction of inner as well as outer space plays an important role in the conception of the furniture/sculpture. This concern, combined with his fascination for the rules of visual perspective, may have led Artschwager to his interest in spatial relationships on an architectural scale, demonstrated in his “rooms” and the appearance of the subject of residential building interiors and exteriors in his painting. There is a parallel in the works of an earlier cabinetmaker, Gerrit Rietveld, whose furniture, such as the Red/blue chair built in 1918, prefigured an architectural concept that ultimately resulted in the construction of the Schröder house in Utrecht in 1924. Rietveld’s chairs, which are art objects as well as furniture, transformed him from architect into artist/architect. Originally intended to be mass-produced, his chairs continue to be hand-made as well.

Precisely because of its composite character Artschwager’s art could fit—and has been put—into various art categories, from Pop, Minimal, and conceptual art, to Surrealism, hyper-realism, and neoExpressionism or Modern traditionalism. Wanting to play down the issue of style in a rational, Duchampian way, Artschwager has to be acutely aware of how aspects of his work coincide with, or differ from, that of others. Because art-historical references are as unavoidable as “the sky is blue,” he feels free to assimilate whatever elements he needs for his work. But having no dogmatic approach Artschwager is never at the center of any art movement, finding himself instead always in the position of an outsider. He seems to explore a latent, unromantic, “cool” fetishism, and his work incorporates what fetishism is all about—the loss of momentum in expressing affection for the loved one resulting in the substitution of an obsession with an object belonging to the beloved. The deliberate suppression of the senses has, as Artschwager consistently points out, a backlash effect in that they will make their demands in some other form. Another force operates in the furniture/sculpture as well—the inevitable fascination for classification. “An object is not an individual manifestation,” he said. “People find groupings and the logic of classes through survival-oriented activity.“

Detachment and involvement /Remembering and seeing
In 1961 Artschwager’s gaze accidentally fell upon a snapshot lying in a trash can. It was a bit like a Duchampian rendezvous. At that time and place, he chanced upon an object, which he did not proclaim to be art but which led to an art form that involved the ambiguity between painting and nonart object, stressing the issue of context.

The finding of the snapshot in the garbage can has the comic quality of the stereotype. Somewhere in a book I recall a cartoon—something between Daumier and Wilhelm Buschshowing a man, a beggar, a derelict poking in a trash can. He has pulled out a piece of paper with (the signature of Albrecht Dürer) clearly marked on it. The man’s eyes are bugging out. He has found a treasure. The snapshot was a beach scene and it reminded me of Paul Cadmus’ Coney Island painting. In the photo were several people, not very glamorous looking. They would live their lives and they would be dead someday. I thought it would be good to paint them as they were, without satire, and made a fairly large canvas, gridding off the photo and following it pretty closely. It was a romantic idea, rooted in a lonely voyeurism.

Another fortunate discovery occurred in 1962 in Chicago, when Artschwager noticed that a Franz Kline painting he was looking at was done on Celotex, a cheap building material. As a result he tried making drawings on Celotex board. The advantage of this material was not only that it allowed him to make fairly large drawings but also that all the elements of the drawing seemed to become enlarged as well. The effect was that of looking at a drawing under a magnifying glass and discovering the slightest detail, among them the fibers of the paper. His combined discovery of Celotex and of a method of transferring and enlarging photographs onto the board by means of a grid enabled Artschwager to make large paintings after photographs. The exclusive use of black and white in charcoal and paint assured photographic recollection. The lumpy texture of the Celotex fibers, which have a random tooth in contrast to the regular weave of canvas, broke up the surface of the painting and disintegrated the paint into grisaille, recalling the grainy halftone of newspaper photographs. Moreover, Celotex has such a density and physicality that it suggests a new form of matter altogether, lending a high degree of tangibility to the surface. This rough surface turns out to be the reverse of the smooth Formica surface that evokes the painterly illusion in the furniture/sculptures. Likewise it produces a shift between two and three dimensions in these objects, which are neither paintings nor sculptures.

Artschwager, like his friend the “super-realist” Malcolm Morley, explored the technique of using a grid to enlarge and transfer photographs, which anticipated the procedure of the Photo-Realists:

I shared with Morley my idea of gridding off an “anonymous” photograph and reproducing it square by square, giving oneself to the making of each square independently of the whole—indifferent to the whole, one might say. I elaborated a technique that embodied drawing, painting, and some chemical action vaguely akin to photography, sticking to black and white. Morley normalized the procedure by using paint and canvas in a most direct fashion and, of course, color. He simply used everybody’s techniques and materials, and I admire that.

In High Rise Apartment, 1964, based on a newsprint reproduction and transferred onto Celotex, because each square within the painting has its own focal point it is possible to equalize meaning and forego any larger hierarchic organization of elements. While painting Artschwager counterbalanced the automatic nature of this detached approach with one of involvement, by considering who lived behind each window and what their life might be. This, together with the concentration on each gridded-off area, intensifies the atmosphere of the image. The end result is both a treasuring of “reality” through a candid photograph and a highly abstract form, a combination made even more prominent in such later paintings as Rockefeller Center IV, 1974.

The tonal contrast in black and white photographs appears to be more intense than in actual light. Artschwager accentuates the patterns of light and shade in the photograph, using this distortion and simplification as a device to separate the painting from its surroundings. The effect is that of an isolated building lit irregularly from the outside, along with “some emanation of light from the building itself.” Something similar happens in a furniture/sculpture like Step ’n See, 1966, in which the horizontal Formica planes are too white, the vertical ones too dark, and the undercut planes too black. By means of all the separation devices including the luminous vibrations of the charcoal and paint broken up by the Celotex surface, the painting/objects stand out from their surroundings and an obvious passage occurs from the outside into the painting.

An interest in private and public space like that in some of the furniture/sculpture recurs in the painting/objects. Office Scene, 1966, represents a determined situation similar to the typing pool of an office, where subtle differences in the position of the typewriters on top of the desks cause the unforeseen in things to stand out, and where the public character (of the office) is contrasted with the intimate quiet that settles after a day of rattling typewriter activity. The private atmosphere is increased by Artschwager’s peculiar use of perspective. It is a keyhole view. The source photograph was cropped from a larger view whose vanishing point would be just outside the right-hand edge of the painting, as indicated by the partitions of the ceiling. While the viewer is prevented from participation within the picture, he or she is simultaneously drawn into the scene by a chamfered frame. The vanishing point of its angles is concealed behind a cluster of typewriters placed both head on and in profile. To add to the confusion, summary outlines of desks, chairs, and typewriters decompose into little black and white dashes which merge with the Celotex fibers, accentuating its sculptural texture. This Seurat-like technique is employed even more distinctly in later paintings such as Destruction IV, 1972, or Rockefeller Center IV.

Sailors, 1966, based on a snapshot, shows personal statement within a regulated public event. The movement is stalled, just as in the frozen patterns of the furniture/sculpture. The ruthless cropping of the picture into four equal parts separated by chamfered frames of the sort used by restaurants to display menus suggests the mechanical cutting of wood for furniture. This approach of systematic depersonalization has an implicit effect of cruelty. The perception is like that of the viewfinder on a camera which pauses here and there on a crowd of grinning sailors, cutting out a slice of life—the sort of viewpoint that fascinated Degas so much. Artschwager mentions that the frames are “centering and windowlike. The picture is properly viewed by a horizontal and vertical sweep of the eye, as with most Fauve painting. When you apply the fixed stare is the only time you get doubling of images. There is also a sense of bulletproof glass over the painting.”

Right away similarities with the work of Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard become apparent in many of the painting/objects of interiors—particularly the intimate and detailed rendering of furniture and decoration, the fusion of outlines with patterns in the background, the division of the painting into panels like Japanese screens, and the stress on two-dimensionality, blocking off the vanishing point as in Japanese prints. Bonnard tried to capture the interior world in an atmospheric tonality like that of the Impressionists, but at the same time wanted to preserve the starting point of a painting, its idea: “the artist is always in danger of allowing himself to be distracted by the effects of direct and immediate vision, and to lose the primary idea on the way. Thus after a certain period of work, the painter can no longer recover his original idea and depends on accidental qualities, he reproduces the shadows he sees . . . ”4 Artschwager recognizes this problem, but the difference in his approach is revealed in his comment on Bonnard’s quote:

If he paints a mirror that reflects nothing but golden yellow sunlight then that is an accidental quality, but it suggests the eternal character of the mirror and light. I think I imitated him directly in the Portrait II piece. A shadow in a painting is permanent. It is ordered and bespeaks shadow in general. It says contingent but is eternal, in the most ordinary sense. The contingencies have been sorted out and lie outside the painting or sculpture (the viewer moves, the light changes). It is very touching how Bonnard struggled against his own originality and did not lose it.

Devices of visual perception used in the furniture/sculptures thus return in the painting/objects, and very remarkably so in such representations of residential interiors as Polish Rider IV, 1971, whose title refers to Rembrandt’s Polish Rider, in the Frick Collection, New York, in which the vanishing point is blocked off by a horseman. These interiors are intended to be hung in particular contexts—for instance, a typical apartment for the Rider, or a corporate public situation for Johnson Wax Building, 1974. The intention is to have the grisaiIle images serve as loaded recollections of their contexts, to be catalysts similar to the kinds of signs used by Proust in Remembrance of Things Past. Artschwager’s interiors count on the movement of the viewer in front of the painting. They are divided into two or three panels separated by aluminum frames. They show progressive views of the room, each panel repeating a part of the preceding one. The viewer becomes involved in a play with similarities and differences, between recollections and new visual perceptions. Things that ordinarily would pass unnoticed, such as the edge of the couch in the first panel of Polish Rider IV, become a focus of attention because of their repetition in the second panel. Separated from the original object and seen as an isolated form, the edge of the couch takes on formal qualities in relation to different elements of the room, puffing the mind on another track. At the same time the elements repeated from the first panel enable viewers to identify the room.

The disjunction between physical presence and recollection is accentuated by the use of mirrors in some of the hybrid painting/objects. In 3 Trees (Shark), 1981, for instance, a mirror is used to contradict the cropping of the picture and the confinement of the painting within the limits of the rectangle. For Artschwager machines like the circular saw, used for cutting wood for furniture, resemble sharks. The danger involved in cutting is also evoked by a double reference to the cuts of Van Gogh, to his forms and to his life. The trees, which are treated in agitated whirls like Van Gogh’s, are at the same time a recollection of those Artschwager grew up with in New Mexico.

The discrepancies between remembering and the actual experience of seeing that an adult would encounter in returning to kindergarten is suggested in Chair Table, 1980, in which an exclamation point painted in dull black hangs in silhouette above a compact table and chair made of Formica in a bleached wooden pattern. Both the exclamation point and the use of Formica force these objects into a painterly image. The upper part of the exclamation point shifts just noticeably as the viewer moves a bit in looking at the piece, providing “a parallax of daily life.” Yet its point rests on the table like a precious vase in a specific place, turning itself and the table-and-chair image back into objects. The exclamation point is out of proportion to the table and chair, but the grainy pattern of the Formica, whose smooth flow is bluntly cut off, corresponds to its scale. The height of the table and chair is reduced to kindergarten measurements but the chair is wide enough for an adult to sit in. Artschwager contributes to the dislocation by turning the punctuation mark into an object, and the objects into painterly ideas. Once again an ambiguous shift between two and three dimensions is set up, all around the exclamation point. One is in danger of speaking beside the point. “If confusion is the sign of the times, I see at the root of this confusion, a rupture between things and words, between things and the ideas and signs that are their representation.” (Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double, 1938.)

The reconciliation of art and science
The most original force in Artschwager’s work is his “blp,” which is comparable to the “Unmoved Mover” of Aristotle. In Aristotle’s theories organisms have motion in themselves, which nevertheless requires an outside cause to initiate movement. An “Eternal Mover” that is itself “Unmoved” is the source of all material motion. The “Unmoved Mover” moves things as human beings are motivated by an ideal—by being the perfect beloved object that moves the lover. “Thought thinks itself an object in virtue of its participation in that which is being thought,” wrote Aristotle in “Metaphysics.” The same applies to Artschwager’s blp.

In 1968 the gallery of Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf formed the perfect Aristotelian setting for the blp. While one walked around, peripatetically conscious of the external world, a blp—a long, oval-shaped form—would appear in one’s peripheral vision, eliciting activity in the field around it. Gradually one became aware of a whole group of blps whose impact depended on their mutual location and visibility. The origin of the blp goes back to a group of notebook drawings that Artschwager made in the winter of 1967–68, representations of landscapes and figures built up of short lines made either with pencil or felt pen. He realized later that this method resembled that of Bart van der Leck. “When there were few marks the work would represent the marks themselves as well as the figures or landscapes. When they became very few they would only occasionally hint at figure, etc.” Later the small notebook studies turned into large drawings done for an exhibition at the University of California at Davis, made of black painted elements of wood about a foot long, stuck on the wall. “The large wall drawing made of the wood pieces was reduced to about four elements.” Eventually, after further rearrangement, only one piece was left, which was about the length of a bread loaf. In this “the blp revealed itself.” In the next few days Artschwager doctored a number of photographs, blocking in oval blp shapes.

In a letter of May 24,1983, I asked Artschwager how he arrived at the term blp:

Does the name blp come from blip meaning ‘a short crisp sound’ as well as ‘the image on a radar screen’? The comparison to the latter is very attractive. The blp seems to be like the point in time and space where a general radar screen pattern is intruded on by a particular object which activates the whole screen. For example, in the photographs of the Utrecht project for Sonsbeek 1971 (are these photographs only documenting the work or are they the work?) the blp is always placed off center (the center of the screen does not get hit) and they are mostly horizontally or vertically positioned on a rectangular strip. The immediate surrounding area seems to echo and enhance the blp-matrix, activating the whole area.

In his answer Artschwager pointed out the differences and similarities of the blp with the blip:

If you take out the vowel (the “i”) the spoken word is automatically crisper. The radar antenna keeps turning around 360° like a cyclops eye, seeing only what is important according to some military rules or some other rules of vision. Or you could say it either pays or does not pay attention, with no middle ground, no “somewhat’s” or “may be’s.” But paying attention (for people, that is) is a mental attitude and when something is paid attention to, at least visually, there is a generally heightened sense of where/when. The screen is activated, so to speak. The photographs of the Utrecht project behave somewhat like the work. Does that make them documentation or does that make them “the work” or perhaps another work? The photograph imitates the visual field. The radar screen is a model of the domain of relevance of the radar. The center of the screen corresponds to the position of cyclops antenna, constantly turning. If the blp in a photograph is off-center (it needn’t be) that might be a way of intimating that the human eye is also not holding still and that it also might catch something in the peripheral vision—not so for the radar antenna, which can watch only along one line at a given moment. The 90° projection of a line is a spot. The radar blip is not exactly a spot but is a small arc of a circle, has a tail like a comet because it does not decay instantly. Similarly the blp is not quite a dot; it is an attenuated dot which catches the viewer in the act of motion somewhat as things in a photograph when one has not held the camera quite still. I have not used the diagonal position very often. The blp is more formal and more commonly it refers in its position, as well as its shape, to the more ritualized, respectable (sometimes obsessive) moves of the head in the upward-downward scan and right and left scan. Not to be forgotten: the blp has an objective being (objectivity?) the way we ascribe to other palpable things, and among the very limited credentials it has to offer for accreditation (membership?) to the family of palpable things would be the standing or lying position.

The positioning of a group of blps seems to be accidental, suggesting a kind of disorder, but it is at the same time carefully directed. The blp-matrix is nearly always separated from its immediate surroundings by its color. A black blp is put on a white field, a white blp on a black field, and the accidental position of partly white, partly black seldom occurs. Devices of both involvement and detachment from the immediate surroundings are carefully created in order to arrive at a situation in which a given blp and its context can each be subordinate. Another aspect determining that is the size of the blps: “They are given a size which will first of all make them visible in the field and which will, secondly, permit them to (resonate?) flux between a dominating and subordinate condition.”

Repetition of the same blp seems to be another necessity in order to activate memory, which is sometimes involuntary. One blp is not enough; one must discover more in order to recognize the first one. And once the discovery is made we can chance upon new ones. A white oval painted on the black part of a chimney near the East River in New York—whatever its function—echoes the blp form as well. Only if more blps are dispersed over New York can the idea start to work. The blp-matrix constitutes and is constituted by memory.

The blp business is a model (Hypostasis???) for memory, providing an instrument to show “the same”—themselves and an instrument to show the “different”—the variable context. . . . On-going memory which is busy all the time, finds the blps, collates them under “same” and stores them together. Dragged away with the blps are their contexts, stored as “different” but together like the scenarios in the photos that make up a family album . . . The summa of blps, whatever that might be, is a fact of my life, a sort of fixture such as my cousin Hans or that there is such a thing as a triangle and no way to eradicate that from my life even if I wished to.

Coosje van Bruggen is an art historian.



1. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes by Artschwager are from conversations and correspondence with the author.

2. Jan McDevitt, “The Object: Still Life,” Craft Horizons, September—October 1965, p. 54.

3. McDevitt, p. 30.

4. John Rewald, Pierre Bonnard, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, ca. 1948, p. 40.

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