“Sculpture is for the touch, painting is for the eye. I wanted to make sculpture for the eye and painting for the touch.” With this statement Richard Artschwager (Washington DC, 1923 – Albany, 2013) summed up his artistic practice, in which the languages of painting and sculpture were inextricably entwined, mingling all predefined categories. He began his career in the 50s, when he went into business as a designer and maker of furniture, and then devoted himself to abstract painting. In the early 60s he began to create the works that make him famous on the international art scene: wood sculptures painted with acrylic, with squared geometric forms evoking the structures of tables and chairs, forcing the viewer to question the very nature of these objects. Through the deception generated by the technical skill with which these works were made, the artist worked on the mechanisms of perception, turning the artwork into a familiar object, which remains recognizable but, at the same time is set out of context and defunctionalized.
Artschwager’s work has been compared to Pop Art for the way it evokes everyday consumer objects, but also Minimalism, for its use of industrial materials and the presence of geometric solids that interact with space. This crossing of two artistic currents apparently so distant from each other makes the American artist’s production unique in its kind, an unusual meeting point between pictorial illusion and three-dimensional realism.
A work like Up and Out (1990) displays all the ambiguity that characterizes Artschwager’s experiments: made of wood and formica, it recalls the form of a mysterious domestic altar, in which top and bottom are colored differently, in both cases simulating the grain of wood, as often happens in the artist’s works, while the upward movement suggested by the steps seems to allude to a partition between the earthly and the heavenly sphere, giving the object a vaguely sacral connotation. The work relates to one of the earliest commissions received by Artschwager, before the beginning of his artistic career, which included the construction of altars for ships. It was exhibited in 2013 at the Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, at the third exhibition which the Neapolitan gallery dedicated to the artist after those of 1992 and 1996, as a tribute just a few months after his death.