New York

Richard Artschwager

Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

I’m sorry I no longer have my Richard Artschwager multiple, but I’m glad I still have the crate it came in. It’s a beautiful piece of work; I remember how, when I first opened it, its screws seemed to levitate with almost uncanny smoothness, to glide upward at the merest touch of a screwdriver.

Apparently Artschwager too has noticed the esthetic satisfactions of a well-made crate: that’s the guise assumed by his latest sculpture—21 untitled works from 1994. The crowded installation transformed the gallery into a sort of ultrarefined warehouse. But these were not the simple rectangular shapes of standard wood and plywood crates, no matter what the configuration of what’s in them. Instead, Artschwager’s crates are of an irregular format, as though announcing the structures of their supposed contents, which could well have been some of Artschwager’s earlier sculptural works. The effect—as is often the case with Artschwager’s sculpture—was ponderous, almost morbid; these crates are tombs for art. Artschwager’s sculpture has always evoked notions of utility, of function, while denying any actual use value, and these crates wittily yet portentously take that contradiction to the second power. Likewise, although Artschwager’s sculptures have always been “representational,” they have always used abstraction to generalize form, and with these crates that notion of abstraction seems to double back on itself.

Unfortunately, some time during the run of this exhibition the crates suffered what I suppose is the inevitable fate of their ilk. They were moved to the back room—into storage, so to speak—in order to make way for something else, in this case five of Artschwager’s grisaille paintings on textured Celotex in painted wood frames. As often in the past, the subject of these paintings—an uncomfortable designation for works that are almost sculptural representations of pictures—is architectural, including both interiors and exteriors. The decorated frames interrupt and subdivide the images in ways that mimic the division of windows into panes but otherwise seem arbitrary, except in the case of House, 1993, where the painting’s division into two horizontal panels follows the mirrored duplication of the depicted house, suggesting a reflection in water (without actually depicting this). In some of the images a single color (or, in Northwest Passage, 1994, a marbleized mix of greens) has been used to emphasize an otherwise empty or unmarked portion of the image. These paintings confirm the persistent formal waywardness and unpredictable self-reflexivity of Artschwager’s work, but in a way that seems—especially in contrast to the strong impact of the crate sculptures—mannered and merely “quirky.”

Barry Schwabsky

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