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On the occasion of “When Attitudes Become Form”, an iconic show has gone down in history curated by Harald Szeemann at the Bern Kunsthalle in 1969, the artist Richard Artschwager and the internationally acclaimed curator Germano Celant (1940-2020) met and, from a series of “blps” - black marks/objects scattered everywhere using the space of the non-visibility - Celant recognized Artschwager as a 360-degree radical thinker with a penchant for transversality in the arts, yet to be discovered. 

When it will be possible to travel and go through the doors of a museum again, one of the exhibitions to be recovered is certainly “Richard Artschwager” at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (dates pending). The last, before departing this life following complications from Covid-19, an ambitious project conceived by world-renowned Italian theorist and curator Germano Celant who, among other things, coined the term “Arte Povera” ("poor art" or "impoverished art”), a guerrilla art manifesto in 1967.

 

Richard Artschwager, Door }, 1983-84, Collection of Kerstin Hiller and Helmut Schmelzer, on loan to Neues Museum Nürnberg.
© 2020 Richard Artschwager / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Richard Artschwager (b. 1923, Washington, D.C.–d. 2013, Albany, U.S.A) practiced a synthesis between Pop, Minimal and Conceptual art, the three antithetical poles of the same, contaminated 1960s American art. In the early 1950s, Artschwager became involved in cabinetmaking, producing simple pieces of furniture. Through newly-developed commercial, unusual and kitschy materials, like Formica, Celotex, acrylic paint or rubberized horsehair, Artschwager started to create “paintings for the touch” and “sculptures for the eye” out of common, apparently ordinary household items, like doors, windows, tables, chests of drawers. Thinking outside the box - a metaphor particularly apt in this case - Artschwager made “furniture that looks boxes and boxes that look furniture or paintings that look kind of decoration”, as the curator explains in one of the Guggenheim Bilbao’s live videos. In this regard, I recommend not to miss the conversation (available on YouTube) between Germano Celant and Manuel Cirauqui, curator of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, about Richard Artschwager’s unclassifiable and peculiar oeuvre. 
 

 

              

From left to right: Richard Artschwager, Exclamation Point, 2010, Plastic bristles on a mahogany core painted with latex 165,1 × 55,9 × 55,9 cm, Private collection, Courtesy Gallery Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Photo: Allan Bovenberg © Estate of Richard Artschwager, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2020; Richard Artschwager, Standing woman (Dirne), 1999, Acrylic, rubberized hair on masonite, 213.4 x 114.3 x 6.4 cm. Private collection, Vienna © Estate of Richard Artschwager, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2020.

 

With a clear, extremely fine and lucid voice, in his mythical gothic rock look, Germano Celant tells fascinating art anecdotes and talks about his distinctive curatorial approach and the critical essay “In-between”, featured in the show’s catalogue. If Celant has always been interested in the idea of cross-over and contamination, Artschwager is in-between in so many ways. He paddles consciously among media (painting and sculpture), styles and disciplines breaking all the boundaries, combining and accumulating at ease various materials taken out of the garbage. He became an artist while making funky furniture, in a constant struggle for survival, always on the crest of ambiguity and divertissement. To be coherent and incoherent, being recognizable from the market or making “no-labels” art - in Celant’s fitting words - that is the question. 


 

Richard Artschwager, Locations, 1969, Formica on wood with screen-printed Plexiglas, and five blps made of wood, glass,
Plexiglas, mirror, and rubberized horsehair with Formica, in 6 parts, Edition of 90, Gagosian © 2019 Richard Artschwager/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Rob McKeever

 

A radical and anti-functional constructor and a subcultural bricoleur, Richard Artschwager created osmotic, eerie, and hairy works: Table with Pink Tablecloth (1964), a rigid and pure square form where the frame and canvas blend; the ugly “beyond taste” Hair Box (1990), made of painted and rubberized hair on wooden plate; a door that looks like a zebra and a confessional that is simultaneously itself and something else; the “corner” or “splatter” pieces (imagine your office two- dimensional hung up on walls!) and the so-called blps - peculiar, graphic marks placed anywhere and everywhere in the city. Artschwager plays with illusion and false surfaces in a show designed as a dynamic, immersive, emotional labyrinth, “a statement about the nature of the art object” (Cirauqui), by an exquisite art historian. Farewell Germano. 

Cover image: Richard Artschwager, Piano Grande, 2012, Formica on wood and Plexiglas, 88.9 x 116.8 x 201.9 cm, Collezione Prada, Milan © Estate of Richard Artschwager, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2020

Written by Petra Chiodi

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