Richard Artschwager

Table and Chair


Not on display

Richard Artschwager 1923–2013
Melamine and wood
Object: 755 × 1320 × 952 mm
object: 1143 × 438 × 533 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

Artschwager’s sculptures are neither real, functional objects nor straightforward representations. They aim to call our attention to their nature as illusions. Artschwager has described them as ‘useful furniture with an overlay of representation’. This refers to his technique of applying the conventions used to depict form and space in illusionistic painting to three-dimensional objects. In this sculpture, the wood-grain and coloured plastic laminate are used to outline the forms of the table and chair and the empty areas around their legs or seat.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Richard Artschwager born 1923

T03793 Table and Chair 1963-4

Melamine laminate over wood; table 755 x 1320 x 952 (29 3/4 x 52 x 37 1/2); chair 1143 x 438 x 533 (45 x 17 1/4 x 21); overall dimensions as displayed variable
Not inscribed
Purchased from the artist through Castelli Gallery, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: On consignment to Castelli Gallery, New York from 1979
Exh: Pop Art, Hayward Gallery, July-September 1969 (4 as ‘Executive Table and Chair'); American Pop Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April-June 1974 (22, repr.); Richard Artschwager's Theme(s), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, July-Aug. 1979, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Oct.-Nov. 1979, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, California, Jan.-March 1980 (no number, repr.); Richard Artschwager, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco, May 1980 (no cat.); Castelli and his Artists, Twenty Five Years, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, California, April-June 1982, Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, Aspen, Colorado, June-Aug. 1982, Castelli Gallery, New York, Sept.-Oct. 1982, Portland Center for the Visual Arts, Portland, Oregon, Oct.-Dec. 1982, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas, Dec. 1982-Feb. 1983 (5, repr); Day in/Day Out, Ordinary Life as a Source for Art, Freedman Gallery, Reading, Pennsylvania, March-April 1983 (6); New Art at the Tate Gallery 1983, Sept.-Oct. 1983 (no number, repr.)
Lit: Michael Compton, ‘New Art' in New Art at the Tate Gallery 1983, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1983, p.40, repr. p.45; Michael McNay, ‘Refresher Course in Yesterday's News', Guardian, 16 Sept. 1983, p.14; Coosje van Bruggen, ‘Richard Artschwager', Artforum, vol. 22, Sept. 1983, pp.45-6, repr.; Richard Armstrong, Artschwager, Richard, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1988, pp.23-4, pl.16 and repr. p.165 (installation photograph). Also repr: John Russell and Suzi Gablik, Pop Art Redefined, 1969, no.15 as ‘Executive Table and Chair'; Lawrence Alloway, American Pop Art, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1974, p.29 no.22; Richard Artschwager's Theme(s) , exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo 1979, p.26; Roberta Smith, ‘The Artschwager Enigma', Art in America, vol.67, Oct. 1979, p.94; Charles F. Stuckey, ‘Scott Burton Chairs' in Scott Burton Chairs, exh. cat., The Contemporary Art Center, Cincinatti, 1983, ill. 10; Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, 1986, p.96

After studying at Cornell University (c.1948) and then in New York at the school of Amedée Ozenfant (1949-50), Richard Artschwager took a series of odd jobs in order to make a living. He taught himself the skills of cabinet making in 1953 and in about 1956 began to mass-produce some articles of furniture. These were nevertheless bound to the principle of being simple and well made. A loft fire in 1958 caused him to reconsider his position and he thereafter began to make art. In an ‘Autochronology' published in the 1979 Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition catalogue, Artschwager has written:

The first in-factory works, constructivist in tone, were made of identical sheets of plywood cut-offs joined into stacks, fans and baffles (1961). These enterprises gradually swallowed up the more noble techniques and materials of the workshop which now had mapped into it a studio (1962). The context of the factory formed the work as did then the ultimate destination of the factory product (?). Useful furniture with an overlay of representation appeared from 1962 to 1967; more often than not this bridge was made by the use of Formica and similar laminates which the artist discovered underfoot (1962).

Artschwager first began to make furniture as art objects in 1962 at which time he had befriended and held a series of discussions with Claes Oldenburg, who was also making furniture pieces covered in ‘Formica' at the time. T03793 is typical of Artschwager's furniture objects of this period in its abstraction and play on illusion. It consists of two elements, a hexahedron and a chair. The four sides and the top of the hexahedron are covered in ivory coloured ‘Formica' sectioned into areas by strips of wood grained ‘Formica' which, illusionistically, describe the outlines of a four legged table. The viewer may see the table as either a solid mass or as an illusionistic diagram of a table where space is rendered by ivory-coloured ‘Formica'. The chair is treated in a similar manner except that a real space between the seat of the chair and the floor at the back is left open. The table and chair are therefore not intended for use since a potential user would be unable to place his feet beneath the table and could not draw up to it, an aspect which is emphasised by the space at the back of the chair. For some time ‘the chair wanted to fit under the table' (letter to the compiler of 27 September 1987) but ultimately this idea was discarded. As the artist has stated ‘I'm making objects for non-use ... By killing off the use part, non-use aspects are allowed living space, breathing space' (Coosje van Bruggen 1983, p.46). There is therefore a strong element of Dada in Artschwager's work. Artschwager contradicts form with function and transforms objects of practical utility into objects for artistic speculation. His objects are abstractions, as he himself has stated in regard to ‘Chair' (Saatchi Collection, London, repr. Art of Our Time, London and New York, 1984, II, pl.7 in col.):

The chair does not precisely resemble any chair in the real world, but its chairness is obvious and unquestionable. It invites sitting, as a chair, but repels it as a work of art (what would the guards say?) and by being a little too high, too shiny and with no place for your legs. It conveys perfectly what is meant by abstraction (the artist quoted in Richard Artschwager. Beschreibungen, Definitionen, Auslassungen, exh. cat., Kunstverein Hamburg, 1978, p.8).

Of the earlier works which relate to T03793 the closest is perhaps ‘Table and Chair' 1962-3 (Paula Cooper, repr. Armstrong 1988, pl.4) which consists of a conventional, simple wooden table and chair painted with marks which broadly represent the grain of the wood. Artschwager turned to using ‘Formica' at around this time. ‘Formica' enhances the appearance of artificiality and the illusion of functionalism and, as Lawrence Campbell has written, ‘succeeds in recreating all that is most offensive in the motel-Howard-Johnson-funeral-parlour syndrome' (‘Richard Artschwager', Art News, vol.64, March 1965, p.17), thereby drawing attention to the mass-produced look of Artschwager's work. The smoothness of the ‘Formica' and its hard unpadded nature repels the potential user. The imitation of wood grain, another instance of illusionism, and the restricted colour scheme may refer to Cubist still life and collage. Artschwager's furniture objects of this period have been related to still life. According to Suzanne Delahanty, Artschwager's objects are taken from the ‘two dimensional illusory world of painting and brought ... back into the three dimensional world of reality' (‘Transformations of Illusion and Reality' in Albright-Knox Art Gallery exh. cat. 1979, p.6) but maintain the illusory nature of painting. Artschwager himself has stated that his objects are examples of ‘three dimensional still life' (quoted in Jan McDevitt, ‘The Object : Still Life', Craft Horizon, Sept.-Oct. 1965, p.30).

The two elements are constructed as follows: a plywood armature was fabricated to which were glued various pieces of laminate (‘Formica') which constitute the ‘skin'. The artist remembers that in the closing stages he worked from a small sketch and that the ‘proportions were fine-tuned as the "skin" was first dry-assembled onto the armature' (letter to the compiler 27 Sept. 1987). He states that while there were no working drawings, he has in his possession ‘little scribbles in notebooks, mixed with verbal'. The artist began to work on this piece late in 1963, possibly in September, but it only took ten days of ‘actual shop time' to make. The work was fabricated by the artist himself, as was his practice until about 1981.

Other related pieces include ‘Table with Pink Tablecloth' 1964 , ‘Long Table with Two Pictures' 1964 and ‘Chair' 1966 (all Saatchi Collection, London, repr. Art of Our Time, 1984, II, pls 3, 5 and 7 respectively in col.), ‘Chair' 1963 (Mr. and Mrs. S. Brooks Barron) and ‘Description of a Table' 1964 (Whitney Museum of American Art, both repr. Armstrong 1988, pl.15 and pl.19 in col.)

In a letter to the compiler dated 1 September 1988 the artist stated that the title originally given to the work, ‘Executive Table and Chair', was ‘appended by Ivan Karp', who worked at Castelli Gallery in the early sixties:

He has done some good titles but I didn't like this one because it was misleading to the point of assigning an attitude not intended by myself. These works consist of both the object and the image thereof; they are both. The first fact puts them in the realm of the useful; the second, in the realm of the useless. I have been saying this for twenty-five years and nobody seems to have heard.

In the same letter the artist states that the work never really belonged to Castelli Gallery: ‘this is typical of my relationship with Castelli. Whom to credit (in a catalog) has always been a matter of ad hoc choice, this bordering on indifference.' He explains that Castelli Gallery ‘had [the work] on consignment from myself at the time it was taken by the Tate'. According to Castelli Gallery (letter of 13 May 1988) the work ‘remained with [the artist] until 1979, when it came to the Gallery and began to circulate regularly in exhibitions'. This claim does not contradict that of the artist.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.485-7


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