Richard Artschwager

Tower II


Not on display

Richard Artschwager 1923–2013
Displayed: 2600 × 1820 × 780 mm
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996


Tower II is a sculpture consisting of a silver cuboid box that is mounted onto a wooden base and has a horizontal rectangular shape cut out of two of its opposing sides. The box measures 2140 x 760 x 290 mm, while the base measures 460 x 780 x 1820 mm. The rectangular cut-out on the front of the box is large and appears quite high up, and inside this gap a series of black, steeped edges taper inwards, running through the object and culminating in a smaller rectangular slot cut into the opposite wall of the box. The base resembles a set of two steps that project from both the front and the back of the sculpture. This suggests that viewers can climb up and look through the slots on either side, however the steps are not in use when the work is displayed. The silver box has rounded edges as well as a smooth and relatively matt surface, and the grain of the wood from which it is made can be seen faintly through the paint. The base is smooth and shiny, and the top step is slightly smaller than the bottom one in both height and width.

This sculpture was made by the American artist Richard Artschwager in 1979, when he was living and working in New York. The base and box are separate sections that are bolted together when displayed. The box is hollow – its front and back are made from thick blockboard, while its sides are built from plywood. It was spray painted using a thin, silver oil-based paint. The base, which is also hollow, is made from thin plywood that has been glued and screwed together, with strengthening battens running along the base’s centre. Wood-effect Formica was used along the top faces of the steps, while an unpattered, dark brown Formica was used for its sides. The steeped edges that are visible inside the rectangular cut-outs in the silver box are coated with black paint.

This is one of three works by Artschwager that feature the word ‘tower’ in their titles. Tower 1964 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) appears to be a smaller version of this work owned by Tate. Meanwhile, Tower III (Confessional) 1980 is a very different sculpture that resembles a confessional booth, with a seat on one side and a kneeling post on the other. However, as with this work owned by Tate, Tower III (Confessional) has a section that could be gazed through from two opposite sides.

Discussing the first of his Tower works in 1965, Artschwager implied that it should be regarded as both a two-dimensional object and a sculpture. He suggested that the ‘serations’ inside the rectangular cut-out are ‘something like the bellows of a camera’, and connected the body of the box with the medium of painting by calling it a ‘frame’ and adding that it was ‘no picture – all frame’ (Richard Artschwager, ‘The Object: Still Life’, in Neues Museum in Nürnberg 2001, p.131). While both of these observations refer to pictorial media, they also reference the physical elements of two-dimensional artworks – the camera and the frame. As Artschwager noted in 2002, much of his practice since 1964 had been concerned with ‘the fact that a picture is supported by an armature as a physical fact’ (Louise Neri, ‘How Things Get Done: In Conversation with Richard Artschwager’, Frieze, no.66, April 2002,, accessed 30 June 2015).

In a discussion of Artschwager’s Tower of 1964, the curator Richard Armstrong argued that it was one of several works the artist made in the mid-1960s (see also Step ’n See 1966) that were concerned with ‘the idea of looking at and looking into’ (Richard Armstrong, Art Without Boundaries, in Richard Artschwager, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1988, p.25). For Armstrong this earlier sculpture addresses whether pictorial experience primarily involves looking at an object or gazing into an implied space. Tower II seems to evoke depth through the tapering edges inside its rectangular cut-out, which may be seen as suggesting the converging lines of three-point perspective. However, rather than being illusionistic, it features an actual recession, which opens onto the gallery space, again exploring with the relationship between the pictorial and the ‘real’.

Further reading
Richard Artschwager, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel 1985, unpaginated, reproduced p.23.
Richard Artschwager: Up and Across, exhibition catalogue, Neues Museum in Nürnberg, Nürnberg 2001, reproduced p.99.
Richard Artschwager: The Hydraulic Door Check, exhibition catalogue, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna 2002, p.142, reproduced p.143.

David Hodge
June 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Display caption

This is second in a series of three 'Towers' that the artist has made. All are imaginary devices for communication. Here the central element, a vertical slab with a narrow horizontal slot near the top, is approached by stairs on either side. The opening is set in an embrasure, as if it were a window or an opening for a gun in a parapet. This partial view offers both protection and intimacy. We are metaphorically invited to climb the steps and communicate with the eyes, ears or mouth of the person who might be glimpsed on the other side. Despite its appearance, this tower has only a notional function. Constructed of wood and Formica, it is a sculpture and cannot be used.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like