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The Hammer Museum is only West Coast venue for the major retrospective Richard Artschwager!
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 credit: © 2000 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photograph by Steven Sloman.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Richard Artschwager!, the most comprehensive retrospective to date of the artist’s work, opened at the Hammer Museum June 15, 2013. The exhibition is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art 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 Hammer’s presentation is organized by senior curator Anne Ellegood. Following the presentation of Richard Artschwager! at the Hammer Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Haus der Kunst, Munich and the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.

Richard Artschwager! features over 145 works spanning six decades, including sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints. Often associated with Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual art, his work never fit neatly into any of these categories. His artistic practice consistently explored questions regarding his own visual and physical engagement with the world; his objects straddle the line between illusion and reality. The exhibition 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.

“In many ways this exhibition epitomizes the kind of artist the Hammer likes to show,” remarks Hammer director Ann Philbin. “Richard is an artist who is not well known by the wider public but deeply admired by other artists around the world. His work is complex, humorous, irreverent, and profoundly unique. Sadly, Richard passed away in February at the age of 89, so we are particularly honored to be a part of continuing his legacy.”

The exhibition explores the entire scope of the artist’s career and will be presented in Galleries 1 and 2 of the Hammer. For more than fifty years, Richard Artschwager (1923-2013) remained steadily at the forefront of contemporary art. He began making art in the 1950s, had his first one-person exhibition at the age of forty-two at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1965, and made his first appearance in a Whitney Annual in 1966.

As Jennifer Gross notes in her catalogue essay, “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.”

Artschwager long used commercial and industrial materials in both his paintings and sculptures. A gifted woodworker who made his living making furniture 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.” Artschwager became increasingly interested in combining wood and Formica in his art and by the early 1960s he was using these materials to create works that hovered between painting and sculpture and frequently took furniture as a point of departure. He worked with a vocabulary of domestic forms in an attempt to articulate space and our perception of it. Similarly, in 1962 he started to paint on Celotex fiberboard, an inexpensive construction material with a rough surface that gives his painted works the look of something distantly recalled. For decades he examined the relationships between fundamental, everyday objects—including tables, chairs, windows, mirrors, and baskets. He was interested in not only how these objects related to each other visually, but how our perception and understanding of each informed our experience of them.

As curator Jennifer Gross notes, “Artschwager had come to the realization that art lay as much in the seeing as in the making—that it lay in one’s perspective on things, not just in craft. While he would continue to be an object-maker whose attention to detail was ‘fanatical,’ he was determined that his future efforts would be applied to things to be looked at, to what he identified as the ‘useless’ realm of art.”

Richard Artschwager was born in 1923 in Washington, D.C., to a German father (an agricultural scientist with a government job and an interest in photography) and a Russian mother (an amateur painter). The family moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, while Artschwager was still a boy, in part due to his father’s poor health. Artschwager entered Cornell University in 1941, where he studied biology, chemistry, and mathematics. After being drafted into World War II military service in 1944 (he was superficially wounded in the Battle of the Bulge), he returned to the U.S. in 1947 and completed his degree in physics the following year. Moving to New York upon graduation, he pursued various trades, including working as a baby photographer, and studied with the modernist painter Amédée Ozenfant. During the 1950s Artschwager became a carpenter, designing and making furniture in New York, but he soon turned again to art, initially painting abstract pictures derived from his memories of the New Mexican desert landscape of his boyhood, while continuing to produce commissioned furniture designs.

In addition to having his first solo show at Castelli in 1965 and appearing in the Primary Structures show at the Jewish Museum in 1966, he began appearing in Whitney Annuals in 1966 and was shown in the 1968, 1970, and 1972 Annuals and the 1983 and 1987 Biennials. In 1988, the Whitney organized a mid-career retrospective of his work, which toured to numerous national and international venues, and in 2002 he was the subject of a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. His work has also been shown in gallery shows throughout the world and in a number of Whitney exhibitions, including The American Century: Art and Culture 1950–2000 and most recently in Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection. Artschwager died in February 2013 in New York at the age of 89.

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