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The Whitney presents a major retrospective of the art of Richard Artschwager
Description of Table, 1964. Melamine laminate on plywood, 26 1/8 x 31 7/8 x 31 7/8 in. (66.4 x 81 x 81 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc. 66.48© Richard Artschwager. Photo: © 2000 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photograph by Steven Sloman

NEW YORK, NY.- Richard Artschwager!, the most comprehensive retrospective to date of the artist’s work, opened on October 25 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Organized by the Whitney in association with the Yale University Art Gallery, and curated by Jennifer Gross, Seymour H. Knox, Jr. Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Yale University Art Gallery, the show has been installed in the Emily Fisher Landau Galleries on the Whitney’s fourth floor through February 3, 2013; it will travel next summer to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, June 16 September 2, 2013.

Now 88, Richard Artschwager (b. 1923) has remained steadily at the forefront of contemporary art for fifty years. He began making art in the 1950s, had his first one-person exhibition at the age of 42 at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1965, and made his first appearance in a Whitney Annual in 1966. Associated with Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual art, he has never fit neatly into any of these categories. His work has consistently explored questions regarding his own visual and physical engagement with the world; his objects straddle the line between illusion and reality. As curator Jennifer Gross notes in her catalogue essay, “Artschwager’s presence in the art world blurred all the set categories. His pictures and objects sobered up Pop, lightened up Minimalism, and made Conceptual art something other than just a thinking man’s game. How could someone remain so methodically committed to the formal values of sculpture and painting … yet also keep his insouciant finger so firmly on the pulse of an art culture that was being thoroughly upended by media culture?”

The Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg commented, “Richard is unquestionably one of the masters of contemporary American art. He has not had a major retrospective since the Whitney’s survey exhibition in 1988, and we think it’s high time for another. Richard’s work is highly individual, idiosyncratic, and unsettling in its resistance to categorization. One of his central themes is the unfamiliarity of the familiar—tables, chairs, windows and punctuation marks among them, including the exclamation point. The exclamation point is a complex symbol—humorous, sensuous, detached in Richard’s work from a dramatic context, and therefore dramatically, existentially, on its own. It’s part of the exhibition’s title for a number of reasons, not least of which is our enthusiasm in presenting the show.”

Artschwager’s work reveals the artist’s prescience in his career-long commitment to exploring the profound effect photography and technology have had in transforming our engagement with the world. His work has responded to and challenged how these media – and our experience of things as images rather than as things in themselves – have shifted human experience from being rooted in primary physical experience to a knowledge mediated by secondary sources such as newspapers, television, and the Internet.

Artschwager has long made use of commercial and industrial materials in his work. Having created furniture out of wood throughout much of the 1950s, he began to incorporate Formica into his art, calling it “the great ugly material, the horror of the age, which I came to like suddenly…it looked as if wood had passed through it, as if the thing only half existed…But it’s a picture of something at the same time, it’s an object.” Similarly, he began in 1962 to paint on Celotex fiberboard, an inexpensive construction material with a rough surface that gives his painted works the look of something distantly recalled.

As Jennifer Gross notes, “The works presented here both defy and affirm our aesthetic expectations, occupying the familiar spaces of sculpture and rehearsing painting’s traditional genres. Yet they hover just out of reach of our physical and visual anticipation of what they should be or reveal to us. Artschwager stated early in his career that he wanted to make ‘useless objects’ – art that would halt our absentminded engagement with the world around us and insist upon visual and physical encounters in real time and a shared space. The works presented in this exhibition attest to the originality and persistence of his vision.”

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