What is a blp? Learn the Story Behind Richard Artschwager’s Playful Spots

Artsy Editorial
Aug 6, 2013 1:47PM

Like Yayoi Kusama and her polka dots, Richard Artschwager, too, left a trace of spots upon the world. He called them “blps”, and from the ’60s until his death last February at age 89, these peculiar, graphic marks made unexpected appearances just about everywhere. Not easily defined (though his own description, “if you sliced a knockwurst longitudinally, that would give you a blp,” is a decent attempt) the blps were born in ’67 while Artschwager was teaching at UC Davis in California and searching for the minimum number of brushstrokes by which to depict a cat. “I think I got it down to seven or eight, and, in the process of making these black marks; there were works that traveled with that,” he said of the discovery. “Take one of those marks and put it somewhere…take a felt marker on a newspaper…black dots blocking out somebody’s eyes; somehow the black dot traveled, as a thing unto itself, not round but elongated. It turned into a ‘blp’, and there it was.”

And so the ubiquitous blps began their journey, placed anywhere and everywhere Artschwager felt the gaze should meet—from city streets to architecture, subways to stairwells, and all off the grid, otherwise unnoticed places in between. Incarnate in spray paint in Düsseldorf or among one hundred throughout the Whitney Museum for in ’68, the conceptual focal points were imagined in new sizes and materials, like wood or hair, and though lesser-known than some of his other (still unconventional) mediums, the blps can be spotted throughout Artschwager’s career—which came to a close just a few days past his retrospective at the Whitney Museum, accompanied by a playfully hidden set of spots on and around New York City’s High Line.

Image of a blp at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica courtesy the Hammer Museum.

Look for blps scattered throughout Los Angeles as part of the Hammer Museum’s major retrospective exhibition, “Richard Artschwager!”, which is on view at the Hammer Museum through September 1, 2013. Explore the exhibition.

Artsy Editorial