Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain): Richard Artschwager
Door/Door II is a relief sculpture that loosely depicts two doors, both of which are attached to the front of a large wooden support. The support is made from a number of panels that are painted in grey, black and white using broad rhythmic lines that suggest wood grain. On any individual panel these lines largely proceed in a single direction, although there are some concentric patterns suggestive of knots in the wood, and where the panels are connected, the rhythm of the flowing grain is interrupted. The door-shaped elements are both faced with light brown wood-effect Formica and each has a centrally positioned vertical line as well as a series of chevron shapes embedded vertically across its surface. Neither door has a handle and they are not functional. The one on the left is relatively tall, with an arched top and four window shapes cut out of its upper third, through which the swirling grey, black and white forms of the support are visible. The door on the right is roughly leaf-shaped and its shorter length means that it sits further up from the floor than the left-hand door. The doors are joined together by a horizontal piece of the support and each has a set of two steps running up towards it.
This work was made by the American artist Richard Artschwager during 1984 and 1985, when he was living and working in New York. He constructed the door shapes from pieces of blockwood and plywood, which he glued and screwed together. The panels in the support structure are all made from blockwood and when installed the support is screwed onto the wall. The smaller door is then attached to the support using screws and the larger door is fitted onto it using a number of slots that Artschwager built into the rear of this component. Each set of steps is a separate element which must be attached to the underside of the work, constituting the final part of the installation process.
Discussing this work in 1988, the curator Richard Armstrong argued that it initially ‘appears’ to include two functioning doors and that viewers may experience a sense of surprise upon moving closer and realising that the objects are not operational (Richard Armstrong, ‘Art Without Boundaries’, in Whitney Museum of American Art 1988, p.44). In addition, it could be argued that the stairs leading up to each of the doors evoke a sense of bodily engagement with the work, despite the fact that this cannot be realised. In 2002, discussing his sculptures’ frequent references to architectural components and pieces of household furniture (see also Table and Chair 1963–4, Tate T03793), Artschwager made the following statement regarding the implied physical involvement on the part of the viewer: ‘It’s good sport to perch one’s art on the cusp between usefulness and uselessness. It doesn’t get resolved until somebody is there, present. The body is essential to my work’ (Artschwager in Louise Neri, ‘How Things Get Done: In Conversation with Richard Artschwager’, Frieze, no.66, April 2002, http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/how_things_get_done/, accessed 12 June 2015).
Armstrong has used the term ‘pictorial sculpture’ to refer to Artschwager’s sculptural practice in general, arguing that the artist’s work consistently explored the relationship between two and three dimensions, as well as the distinction between image and object (Armstrong 1988, p.45). Regarding Door/Door II in particular, the curator Jean-Christophe Ammann has stated that this work alludes to pictorial depth through the size difference between the two doors and the fact that the stairs under the smaller door are elevated significantly further above the floor than those on the other side (Jean-Christophe Ammann, ‘Richard Artschwager’, in Kunsthalle Basel 1985, p.16). Door/Door II is one of a number of reliefs that Artschwager made in the mid-1980s that employ this combination of pictorial devices and sculptural form (see also Low Overheard 1984–5, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis) and Ammann has claimed that Artschwager was primarily interested in the medium of relief sculpture due to the way that it allowed for a ‘transition from the third to the second dimension’ (Ammann 1985, p.14).
Richard Artschwager, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel 1985, pp.16–17, reproduced p.83.
Artschwager, Richard, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1988, pp.44, 172, reproduced pp.145, 170.
Richard Artschwager: The Hydraulic Door Check, exhibition catalogue, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna 2002, reproduced pp.182, 187.
Supported by Christie’s.
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