Richard Artschwager, 1923-2013


Painter and sculptor Richard Artschwager died in Albany, N.Y., on Saturday at age 89. His retrospective, “Richard Artschwager!”, closed at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art on Feb. 3. It was the artist’s first retrospective exhibition since one organized at the Whitney in 1988. In the catalogue for that exhibition, he defined art as “thought experiencing itself.” He lived in Hudson, N.Y., in Columbia County.

Artschwager is best known for sculptures that meld aspects of Minimalism and Pop, for example the nearly cubic Description of Table (1964), a Formica-on-plywood construction on which areas of white, faux wood grain and black combine to create the image of a table with a white tablecloth. Its witty visual and conceptual play predates Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs by a year.

In the late 1960s, Artschwager introduced the “blp,” a small, oblong black object that interrupted or punctuated gallery spaces or other environments.

“The ‘blps’ are my best cheat,” the artist told A.i.A. in a “Muse” column in December 2012, in which he said that sincerity and truth were his inspiration. “I make myself a constant, as a manufacturer would do-make a brand and start from there. And then the viewer consumes it-by looking at it. I had a good run of those things.”

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1923, Artschwager studied mathematics and sciences at upstate New York’s Cornell University. After serving in combat in the Army, he worked in counterintelligence in Vienna, where he met his first wife, Elfriede Wejmelka.

He then studied art in Paris at the Studio School of Amédée Ozenfant, but worked as a bank clerk and furniture maker in order to support his wife and child. He later began to use his woodworking skills to create sculpture.

Artschwager was accepted into Leo Castelli’s gallery after sending images of his work unsolicited. Castelli represented his work for 30 years, and his work was included in major international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale (1976 and 1980) and Documenta, in Kassel, Germany (1968, 1982 and 1992). His works on paper were later represented by David Nolan Gallery, in New York, whose facade, a permanent project executed by Artschwager in collaboration with architect Markus Dochantschi, of New York’s Studio MDA, is painted in the artist’s signature cadmium yellow. Since 1998, he was represented by Gagosian Gallery.