The art that I make takes place about one step away from the normal stir of human activity. - Richard Artschwager
Gagosian New York will pay tribute to the late Richard Artschwager with an exhibition of his last works. “Richard Artschwager: No More Running Man” coincides with the major touring retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in collaboration with Yale University Art Gallery, currently on view at Haus der Kunst in Munich until January 26.
Tickling many genres but cleaving to none, the art that Artschwager produced over the span of fifty years has been variously described as Pop art, because of its derivation from utilitarian objects and incorporation of commercial and industrial materials; as Minimal art, because of its geometric forms and solid presence; and as Conceptual art, due to its cool and cerebral detachment. His approach, which combined influences as diverse as counterintelligence and cabinetmaking, focused on structures of perception, conflating the visual world of images (painting) and the tactile world of objects (sculpture).
Synthetic materials were critical to Artschwager’s project, whether the readymade frisson of Formica with its color fields, patterns, and hard sheen; or the suggestiveness of Celotex, the heavily textured, dimensional paper board on which he painted grisaille renderings of photographs both topical and obscure, landscapes, and parlor scenes. He turned everyday domestic motifs—tables, chairs, doors and mirrors—into sculptural riffs. Greatly enlarged figures of punctuation (exclamation points, question marks, brackets) became autonomous forms in both hard and soft materials, while "blps” inspired by morse code appeared surreptitiously in galleries and parks and on city streets and skylines. Stiff rubberized horsehair was molded into flat silhouettes or discrete containers. Artschwager forged a maverick path by confounding the generic limits of art, making the visual comprehension of space and the everyday objects that occupy it strangely unfamiliar.
On view are Artschwager’s final variations on the running man, a leitmotif that assumes new poignancy in this posthumous exhibition. The image derives from a photograph of a distant figure in profile, running through a snowy park during the cold winter of 1989. Clipped by Artschwager from The Boston Globe during its coverage of the coldspell, the image was reimagined in several of his works beginning in 1991, and provided the foundation for this final cohesive series. Each wall-mounted work depicts one, two, or three monochrome silhouettes repeated, or mirrored like Rorschach images, on a grisaille of textured plastic or handmade paper. With their deep, handcrafted frames that mimic woodgrain or granite, each picture doubles as a sculpture. Anticipating this series are the laminated wood sculpture Monument (2010) and Standing Self Portrait (2009), a mysterious phantasmic nude that emerges amidst the textures of the patterned plastic background and trompe l'oeil frame. Erasing distinctions between synthetic and organic surfaces; painting versus sculpture; and everyday objects versus art objects, these boundless anti-paintings are distillations of Artschwager’s lifelong disruption of the status quo.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Robert C. Morgan and an introduction by Bob Monk.
Richard Artschwager was born in Washington, D.C. in 1923, and died in Albany, New York in 2013. Following studies in chemistry, biology, and mathematics at Cornell University, and a period of study under the pioneering abstract painter Amedée Ozenfant in Paris, Artschwager began his career producing simple pieces of furniture in New York City. After a ruinous workshop fire at the end of the 1950s, he began to create sculpture using leftover industrial materials, later broadening his practice to include painting, drawing, site-specific installations, and photo-based work. Major solo museum exhibitions have been presented at Kunstverein Hamburg (1978, traveled to Sammlung Ludwig, Aachen, Germany); Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (1979, traveled to Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; and La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, California, through 1980); Kunsthalle Basel (1985, traveled to Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; and CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France, through 1986); Documenta 8, Kassel, Germany (1987); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1988, traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Palacio de Velázquez, Madrid; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Stadtische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, through 1989); Saatchi Gallery, London (1991); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1992); Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris (1994); Neuesmuseum, Nurenberg, Germany (2001, traveled to Serpentine Gallery, London); MAK, Vienna (2002); Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami (2003); and Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2003). “Richard Artschwager!”, a career-spanning retrospective, was originally presented at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2012–13), and traveled to Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. The exhibition is on view at Haus der Kunst, Munich through January 6, and will travel to Nouveau Musée National de Monaco from February to May 2014.