New York

Richard Artschwager

Castelli Gallery | Uptown

In light of the recent infatuation with simulationist theories of art production and in the wake of his Whitney retrospective, Richard Artschwager’s work has moved from the margins of disparate artistic practices (Surrealism, Photorealism, Minimalism, and Pop) to the center of the esthetic and critical consciousness of the ’80s. It manifests a striking homogeneity of materials and ideas; tellingly, the recent objects do not look radically different from those of the early ’60s, so that Artschwager subverts the arcs and sways of artistic development and evacuates the notion of style. Still working obsessively with his signature materials, Formica and Celotex, he continues his strategic (dis)articulation of the distinctions between form and function, furniture and sculpture, sculpture and painting, use and uselessness. Suspension and inertia remain the controlling ideas.

Many of Artschwager’s recent paintings depict figures seen as if from directly overhead—an inescapably alienating perspective. In Thruway, 1988, the figure seems oddly reminiscent of those in Francis Bacon’s work, but the tortuous kneading of paint-as-flesh gives way to dematerialization; only the shadows writhe, enacting a play of multiple distinctions, overlaps, and erasures. Traversing the wall that is defined by Formica panels, this figure seems trapped between competing voids. The Celotex grisaille, an adumbration of absences, contrasts with the obdurate, impenetrable materiality of Formica and wood. The wall is itself outlined by ashen gray shadows; like the figure, these outlines suggest both composition and decomposition, a hazy and uncertain penumbra of form. In Double Diners, 1989, two female figures seen from above are seated at a Formica wood-grain table against a Formica bamboo background. The forms of these figures are massive and swelling, but still they seem only partially present, mere shades in comparison to the mute and inexpressive Formica tabletop and background. Artschwager’s paintings rehearse the disappearance of the individual bodily subject in a series of harsh de-realizations. Formica—which simulates but does not represent—assumes a presence in the face of which figuration is effectively nullified.

This process of the figure’s nullification is further enacted by Artschwager’s sculptures, but through different means. His “furniture” is intractably hostile and repellent to human use—the material of choice in this series is rubberized hair. Like the paintings, each piece is different and yet somehow uncomfortably the same, a finite but continuous sequence of originals which mock art and use to death, perpetuating frustration as their most compelling condition.

David Rimanelli