New York

Richard Artschwager

The bland hermeticism sensible throughout the present exhibition of Richard Artschwager’s sculpture is a foil to the arresting critical notions Artschwager is playing with. Three years ago Artschwager was an easy mark, the classicistic counterweight to Oldenburg’s soft sculpture. His real virtues were clouded in the smog of second generation Pop. Shortly thereafter, the representational aspects expunged from his work, Artschwager was seen as a reflection of the general surge toward minimal structure. Yet, through this distillation a residue of furniture remained—even after Artschwager had ostensibly abandoned the pictorial image definitely.

The nagging picture is still there, and the picture lining, and they are finely crafted out of cold formica. This material incidentally, burled and laminated tobacco spit—either blue or brown, is a red herring. Artschwager is a hermetist. The issue is no longer whether or not he is making furniture; rather he is concerned with the semantics of furniture.

The French word for furniture is “meuble” and it may be used as a verb. A Frenchman can reasonably say, “les écrans, ça meuble,” meaning “screens, they furnish.” What the Frenchman is saying is that screens occupy space. This occupation is regarded as the fundamental aspect of furniture and the Frenchman carries this idea further when he speaks of office buildings and apartment houses as immeubles—that is, immoveables. This implies that meuble also corresponds to a notion of moveable. Artschwager’s sculpture covers the carpet between the French immeuble and the English furniture.

This explains why two “empty” rectangles “matted” into a “frame” of the same material may be regarded at the same time as two pictures in a single frame. The folding pieces in this connection are rightly spoken of as “diptychs” and “triptychs.” Moreover, the utilitarian, which we regard as the essential nature of furniture, is avoided at every turn. Artschwager can now make forms that behave like furniture without obeying utilitarian regulations. They may hang on walls, angle their way around corners, behave like cornices, assume eccentric inner proportions, and still come off looking like analytical Grand Rapids. Artschwager can now play with new structures such as the “Loguses” (hexagonal structures of three long and three short sides which I think would be a joy to thump-thump around the room), derived from his familiar marbleized shadow boxes. Artschwager’s exhibition indicates that at last he is beginning to create as an original artist whereas, before, he functioned only as a derivative satirist.

Robert Pincus-Witten