A Virtual Tour of Richard Artschwager!

Hammer Museum
Aug 7, 2013 6:32PM

Richard Artschwager was surely an enigmatic figure - difficult to pin down, his art career ranged wildly over a fifty year period.  Some followers have observed that just as you felt like you were finally catching up to him and comprehending what it was he was making, he was already off in a completely new direction, leaving a bewildered but curious crowd of followers.  One of the threads that carries through his diverse career however was a desire to make the familiar into something unfamiliar.  Artschwager asks us to pay attention to the mundane things that we tend to overlook, to look very carefully at the everyday strangeness that surrounds us.  In a teasing instruction he often liked to use, he asks us to “Shut Up and Look!”


Starting off the exhibition is one of Artschwager’s early works from the period when he was transitioning from a previous career as a furniture maker to a full time artist. This object seems to suggest the image of a table inscribed onto a cube. When asked to describe this curious object, Artschwager called it a “multipicture” suggesting each face of the cube worked as a separate image. It is only when you step back far enough that the illusion of a table emerges from the form. But what a strange table!  Oddly scaled down to a child’s size and impossible to sit at, it is a useful domestic object here rendered strangely useless.


As you move to the second room, you are immediately confronted with an odd object – a strangely formed blue mass sitting on the floor carefully covered in the faux wood patterning of plastic Formica veneer, a material totally ubiquitous in the 1960s.  This marked Artschwager’s lifelong obsession with Formica, with it reappearing again and again in many variations throughout his career.  Artschwager remained fascinated with Formica veneer which he described as “the great ugly material, the horror of the age” as a totally mundane material, found on kitchen counters throughout the nation that operated as a flattened image of something else.

3. TRIPTYCH V, 1972

Given his fascination with Formica, it may not come as a surprise that he also became obsessed with another building material, this time Celotex – a heavily textured insulation board often used in walls and ceilings.  In this series of paintings we see Artschwager painting on the Celotex which results in a heavily textured image that starts to disintegrate visually in parts where the texture of the board begins to overwhelm the painted image. In this series of domestic interiors Artschwager was also experimenting with vision in a different sense, presenting the visual effect of panning, here exaggerated in the curious seam in the painting where the panning motion appears to have hit a glitch and repeating itself, gives us an odd duplication of the same door.


Coming across a series of photographs published in a local newspaper of the controlled demolition of a formerly grand Art Deco Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City, Artschwager decided to render the sequence of images as a series of paintings on Celotex.  Artschwager’s interest in the act of demolition seemed to operate at the scale of the building, showcased by his interest in the cycles of architectural obsolescence and redevelopment as well as by his choice of medium, painting directly onto a building material, but also at the scale of the image itself.  The rough texture of the Celotex seems to overwhelm the painting at certain points, seemingly degrading the very legibility of the image.


Very late in his career Artschwager began to return to some of the earliest themes of his career. This piano made as one of the last series he completed before he passed away in early 2013, seems to suggest the same visual games as the Description of a Table from the beginning of the exhibition. Here the piano, an everyday domestic object is rendered strangely useless by its scale and form.  Appearing as a cartoonish piano, it suggests at once a sculptural object and a flattened image of a piano - impossible to actually use but engaging to look at. * The Piano/Malevich shown in the exhibition is from the collection of Beth DeWoody

-All Hammer Tours are lead by UCLA Student Educators. Student Educators are paid UCLA students from many diverse disciplines who serve as the Hammer Museum’s docent corps. Student Educators lead all public tours and are responsible for the entire process of creating a tour, from research to execution. 

Hammer Museum