PRINT Summer 2013


Richard Artschwager


I LOVE TO WORK in the haptic realm and I’m very invested in the rich, authentic materiality of things like wood and concrete, so I hate plastic. I have to admit, then, that in some ways I disliked the first works of Richard’s that I saw, which were his Formica furniture pieces. I hated the idea of a sculpture just being this big Formica thing. But as I kept looking, I was forced to reconsider. Richard used what I thought were disgusting materials, but his wry, iconoclastic sense transformed them. In a way, his work is about inversion: Everything you think you know gets turned on its side. As 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.” That’s pure Richard.

After that first encounter I knew I had to talk to him about his work, and I was fortunate to develop a close relationship with him that spanned several decades. He was a great interlocutor, always open, generous, and enthusiastic about collaboration. We worked together on several major projects, such as the large figure, Sitting, that he made for the art building I designed for the University of Iowa in 2006; or the 2011 show of his work I helped him put together at “T” Space, a gallery I designed and which is run by Susan Wides in Dutchess County, New York. But our ongoing dialogue was as significant to me as these specific projects. We had long conversations about his early years as a furniture maker, his roots in craft and building, which I think were important in his work but were also subverted and transfigured by the enigmatic, layered quality of its inventions and associations. I was always inspired by the way he merged thought and process, pursuing conceptual projects and constructing material things. He was constantly exploring a balance between the two, and that is what made his work exciting and unpredictable.

I also had important conversations with Richard about making spaces for art. Even before his show at “T” Space, he was involved with the project from the beginning, advising on the design. I’ve spoken to many artists about exhibition space over the years; Richard Nonas once told me, “My art needs an orthogonal white wall that meets the floor at a right angle.” And Vito Acconci said, “Make the gallery as strange as you can, because my art needs something to react to.” Richard was always more open. For him there were no absolutes or preconceptions about what space has to be. His attitude helped me understand how thoughtfully designed spaces could become instruments with which to explore new possibilities for art, and it also allowed him continually to respond to space in new ways. I’ve seen a lot of his shows, and they are always different, thanks to the incredible variety and flexibility of his artworks. Think of the Splat pieces, which can go in the corner high up in the room; or Exclamation Point (Chartreuse), 2008, which can hang anywhere and take over any space it enters; or the blps, which literally spread his work around the city. In fact, when the Whitney did his retrospective this year, I commissioned a blp to be painted on a huge smokestack outside of my office, so I have a permanent Richard Artschwager. I hope it will be there forever.

Steven Holl is principal of Steven Holl Architects, with offices in New York and Beijing.