Richard Artschwager is not someone commonly taught in survey art history courses or an artist with widespread name recognition – something the recent retrospective exhibition attempted to rectify. Besides his use of non-traditional materials like Formica, part of the reason for this oversight is due to Artschwager’s ability to fit or not fit into a range of artistic tendencies that emerged in the 1960s. He was and is often associated with Pop and/or Minimalism, and yet is simultaneously written off as neither. While Artschwager’s specific material choices and his exploitation of the tenuous boundary between fine art and design may seem to put him at odds within a narrow, linear history of modern art, for all of his uniqueness, his approach to art making and his focus on the space and substances of everyday life has rich parallels to those of his contemporaries.
Like Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes or Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #30, Artschwager’s plastic table pieces emphasize surface, bright, artificial colors and materials, and objects of contemporary consumer culture. With their basic geometric forms and physical presences they also can be seen in the context of the numerous minimalist cubes fabricated in industrial materials created by Donald Judd or Tony Smith. Further, one of the more seemingly distinctive aspects of his work from the mid-1960s, his choice to create sculptures that function as functionless pieces of furniture, actually situates his work within a long and very contemporary history of sculptors creating or referencing furniture. There are of course earlier examples like Isamu Noguchi as well as those from the late twentieth century of artists experimenting with furniture design, often blurring the lines that distinguish a sculpture from an object to sleep, eat, or sit in. Continue reading “Sculpture and Designed Things Part III: ‘Art is Useless’”
“This housewife is a ‘FORMICA’ kitchen enthusiast – but aren’t we all? Won’t you feel life is good when you own a kitchen where all the surfaces are jewel-bright-clean-at-a-wipe ‘FORMICA’ Laminated Plastic?”
– Formica Advertisement, 1953, published in Ideal Home
Jean Baudrillard wrote that modern materials like concrete or nylon are no less true, authentic, or real than stone or cotton, and that with the passage of time the “nobility of materials” would dissipate, modifying “our sensorial relationships with materials.”1 Plastic, whether Melamine, Nylon, or Formica, may have become ubiquitous substances of our material lives, but I would argue that, at least in the case of Formica, it has yet to overcome its second-class status as a cheap, fake, or in our current age, highly unsustainable. Continue reading “Sculpture and Designed Things Part II: Artschwager and Formica”
I think I may be having a bit of a Richard Artschwager revelation. For all of my interest in sculpture, especially postwar sculpture, I have to admit that I have never given his work a lot of attention. The timing of this personal Artschwager-awakening, while caused by an seemingly odd confluence of encounters, is not totally unexpected considering that many seem to be having their own Artschwager-moments. Just days before his passing in February of this year, a large-scale retrospective, the first in decades, closed at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This exhibition, Richard Artschwager! opened at UCLA’s Hammer museum this summer, and largely in response to this more recent manifestation of the exhibition, Artschwager has been appearing, specter-like, in my digital life over the past few weeks. There have been countless tweets, news features, and blog posts including: compendiums of Artschwager-isms, fantastic photographs of his blps installed around Los Angeles and a fun video piece produced by the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (see below). Continue reading “Sculpture and Designed Things Part I: Andre, Artschwager, and Everything but the Kitchen Sink”