Richard Artschwager

Donald Young Gallery

Richard Artschwager showed new pieces from the two ongoing series for which he is best known—the pristine formica and wood sculptures that hover between furniture and sculptural objects, and his grisaille paintings on celotex. In recent years the separate bodies of work have begun to converge. It is not just that the frames of his paintings have become so visually complex as to suggest sculpture, or that celotex is starting to crop up in his formica sculptures; rather, both series have simultaneously moved toward the special harmonies of an Albertian world order. All seven works on display here, both paintings and objects, were designed to “recede” in an order dictated by an onlooker’s set position in space. Everything, even nature, faces front and center, supplying the rendered subjects with an imposing dignity. This is as true for such iconographically loaded subjects as an altar or a desert sunset as it is for an ordinary middle-class interior.

Both the sculptures, Up and Out and Mantle (all works 1990), employ illusionistic and perspectival devices to amplify their wall-bound status. Mantle especially embraces its function as an object for use. Artschwager displays his consummate skills as a designer/craftsperson to create this pedestal of perfection, into which two globs of dried celotex are recessed like stereo speakers. Tactics of presentation are derided here in a witty manner that has more in common with Pop art than does the work of younger artists influenced by Artschwager, such as Haim Steinbach and Meyer Vaisman.

Celotex is the medium of choice in the five paintings shown here, and with almost 30 years’ experience Artschwager knows the secrets of this curious substance. His application of acrylic paint over celotex has always been discreetly minimal so as not to overwhelm the textural rhythms in the plastic beneath. In Desert Sunset V, his painting enhances the chaos of celotex swirls, heightening their Van Gogh-like pulsing and throbbing. In Double Stretch, gold bands pull back the tense strands of some cross-webbed stitchery in order to reveal two small black spaces. It is a visual game, not quite trompe l’oeil, but nonetheless superbly realized. Like much of Artschwager’s work today, Double Stretch is less an exploration of new territory than an expertly turned tour de force.

James Yood