Critics have been scratching their heads about Richard Artschwager since his first investigations into furniture-as-object in the early 1960s. He has been tied to movements as wide-ranging as Pop, Minimalism, Surrealism, Dada and Conceptual Art. Part of Artschwager's appeal, however, is that he defies labels, despite the fact that his materials and basic visual vocabulary rarely change.
Artschwager's recent paintings contain his usual conglomeration of signs. He's still using Formica, rendering grisaille images on roughly textured Celotex, and enveloping the whole in intimidating frames finished in industrial green paint. He's still making works about perception, exploring representational transitions from three to two dimensions, as well as the status of the art image/object itself.
At first glance, the works seem like simple abstractions, vertical juxtapositions of wood-grain Formica with gray-striped acrylic on Celotex. This flat, planar reading is overturned when we realize that both materials are also being used representationally as table tops and floorboards. We are, in fact, looking at overhead perspectives of dinner settings. What appeared to be etched circles and lines are painted arrangements of plates and cutlery. Amorphous gray forms to the side turn out to be aerial shots of heads and shoulders or empty chairs.
This muddying of the distinctions between abstraction and representation is further complicated by Artschwager's ambiguous use of materials. Formica is a simulation of wood, but also a legitimate "surface" in its own right. Its status is made all the more confusing by its use as a vehicle for "carrying" the painted dinner plates. If the latter are obviously false renderings, then the Formica seems all the more valid as a "real" stand-in for wood. Such perceptual chess games are typical of Artschwager and are the reason why his work remains so fresh. Check-mate is impossible, and undesirable, because the beauty of perception is in the sleight of the moves themselves, not their contrived resolution. (Daniel Weinberg, 619 N. Almont Drive, to Nov. 29.)