New York Part Two – Richard Artschwager at David Nolan
Iconoclast. The word came to mind both during and after my visit to the David Nolan Gallery to witness the excellent and often difficult Richard Artschwager exhibition. The title either refers to a person who attacks cherished beliefs as being based on error or superstition or a breaker/destroyer of images, especially those set up for religious veneration. The moniker sticks but with an important caveat. It is one thing to attack/break/destroy, it’s quite another to posit an alternative in its place.
Artschwager’s body of work often defies categorization. Conceptual and intellectual in origin, the work remains tactile and wholly a retinal pleasure. Humor plays an important role to the on-ramp of appreciation. This last element alone is enough to handsomely distinguish itself as the ultimate “other.” And yet humor is a spice and not the main ingredient.
The exhibition, comprised mostly of works on paper with a single sculpture and 2 paintings, makes you question while smiling. This is a satisfieing. It’s like curling your lip in amusement and furrowing your brow in disbelief at the same time. No mean feat that. Landscape with Median from 2011 might be my persoanl favorite of the exhibition. The receeding lines of the double yellow median strips reference a highway but in this incarnation, to nowhere. The strips actually look as though they’ve been buried in a shallow grave. On a tactile front, the strips are actually cut out of the paper and filled in with yellow. Mary Heilmann did a piece with this similar conceit of the median lines. The painting is called Two Lane Black Top (see image below) and it’s featured in her video on Art:21. (Fast forward to the 06:00 minute point in the Heilmann episode.) Artschwager’s multiple incarnations of the median lines never devolve into abstract compositional crutch as they do with Heilmann though. They remain unapologetic.
A room upstairs at Nolan features three charcoals, one from 1972 and the others from the mid 80’s. The room is sublime. The iconography is weaving lines. One goes so far as to actually mimic chair caning. But with alterations and unexpected beats. Artschwager sets up a nice four four rythym and them drops in a syncopated beat of jazzy flavor.
And as for the aforementioned humor, Artschwager offers us Landscape with Leg from 2010. The landscape itself is more conventional but the introduction of the leg arching away from the road at a pleasant 45 degree angle defies logic. It may defy the rational but it establishes a new rational to lay one’s faith in. Breaker and Builder.
Richard Artschwager at David Nolan Gallery remains on view till December 3rd, 2011
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, November 22nd, 2011
(All Images used courtesy of the David Nolan Gallery from their website)