Richard Artschwager (Washington, 1923 - Albany, 2013) has dedicated his output to exploring the construction of meaning in works of art. By challenging conventional painting and sculpture, and operating outside stylistic classification, Artschwager's artistic output is primarily made up of: furniture sculptures made from wood and Formica as an imitation of wood as well as pictures painted on industrial material called celotex and sculptural forms painted or covered in rubber that he calls “blps”.
Artschwager's unusual personality is shaped by his hybrid education, whereby he has a degree in Physical Science and training in the principles of purist aesthetics with the Cubist rationality of the artist Amadée Ozenfant, as well as jobs as a children's photographer, lathe operator, carpenter and a manufacturer of altars for ships.
His sculptures question art conventions that refer to materials, themes and physicality. Artschwager, influenced by artists such as Marc di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg and Malcom Morley, begins to carve out his own style at the beginning of the Sixties, reverting to the use of Formica, a non-traditional material in sculpture, and celotex, which he considers a pictorial equivalent to Formica. Both enable the inversion between the functional and the aesthetic to be ingested in his works, as is the case in Table with Pink Tablecloth (1964) and Piano (1965). A table and a piano, two functional objects made with equally functional materials that are not allowed to be used.
Likewise, the interplay between the object is found in this exhibition in Mirror/Mirror-Table/Table, realised in 1964 and part of the MOCA collection, in which the tables and mirrors are ergonomically located in space and play with the notion of sculpture and painting as they are able to transgress the limits of disciplines despite upholding all their precepts. Equally, other sculptures such as Handle (1962) and Door/Door II (1984-85) which invite the viewer to jump from the void but enter nowhere.
The Palacio de Velázquez houses the exhibition in the Retiro park and brings together a collection of thirty-five sculptures from 1962 to 1985 - carried out for the most part in Formica, wood and plexiglass - and thirty-three paintings, all of which have been created with acrylic on celotex normally used for covering ceilings and walls. Artschwager takes images from newspapers and magazines and uses them in his pieces to reproduce portraits, architectural structures and domestic interiors that represent American life. His painting turns photographs into blurred images, distorted by the irregular surface of the material used as a support; thus, in the process he attains ambiguity between two and three dimensions, as seen in High Rise Apartment (1964).
The experiments with perception and space delve even deeper with the “blps” installations, the name he gives to blips, the dots of light seen on a radar screen that indicate the position of the object that has been detected. One example of this type of work is Up and Across (1984-85), whereby the physical presence of form works to expand space.
Furthermore, the exhibition in the Palacio de Velázquez includes the ambient installation Janus III, a lift, made from Formica and fluorescent tubes, that can be accessed. Two buttons - one to go up and one to go down - activate a chorus of sounds that recreate the feeling of ascending and descending. Artschwager, together with perceptive experience and his conception of sculpture, sets forth the interaction with the viewer via the installation.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (January - April, 1988); San Francisco Museum of Art (June - August, 1988); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (September - January, 1989); Museé National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris (May - June, 1989); Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf (October - December, 1989)