Furniture-making both inspired and financed the artist ’s
practice. Artschwager went to school in New York and Paris in the 1940s, finally settling in the former city. He got married, had a child, and temporarily relinquished his creative ambitions in order to support his burgeoning family, by making furniture and working at a bank.
Throughout the 1960s, Artschwager returned to sculpture, taking advantage of his now-significant woodworking skills. For gallery settings, Artschwager installed forms that alluded to the structure of cabinets, chairs, and other furniture. Description of Table (1964), for example, is a simple painted plywood cube, with black pigment conveying an empty space beneath a wooden “table,” and white that suggests a tablecloth on top. Artschwager also used Formica throughout his career, sampling the surface and texture of common countertops. Looking at his work, it’s difficult to tell what belongs in a living room and what should be in a museum. His artwork advocates diminishing the barriers between both.
In contrast, the
drew clear boundaries between his furniture and art practice. In the 1970s, he was already famous for his boxy sculptures: wall-mounted like shelves, or arrayed on the floor like unusable tables, benches, or storage units. During the decade, he moved from New York to West Texas with his family. Judd found no good furniture stores nearby, so he decided to make all his own furnishings. Out of necessity, then, he started constructing chairs, desks, and other functional pieces that shared many elements (sleekness, right angles, clean lines) with his artwork.
Yet he viewed his two different modes of making as discreet activities. “The intent of art is different from that of [furniture], which must be functional,” Judd wrote in his 1993 essay “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp.” Yet he also conceded (albeit cryptically): “The furniture is furniture and is only art in that architecture, ceramics, textiles, and many things are art.” His son, Flavin Judd, recalls that public reception for his father’s chairs and dressers was not initially positive. “The world is divided up in two lanes,” he told Artsy. “People like other people to stay in their own lane.”