Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Richard Artschwager (American, 1923–2013)

Polish Rider I, 1970

Acrylic on Celotex

Sight: 44 x 60-3/16 in.(111.8 x 152.9 cm)

Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Mayer

Since the mid-1960s, Richard Artschwager’s work has elegantly and intelligently crossed the boundaries between Pop Art, minimalism, and Photo Realism. Like the Pop artists, Artschwager derived the imagery of his two-dimensional work from magazine illustrations and popular culture; similarly, his three-dimensional sculpture has taken the form of banal, everyday objects—books, chairs, tables, and doors. Artschwager’s commercial production background—he operated a furniture factory in New York from 1955 to 1965—undoubtedly played some part in stimulating his interest in the mass-produced or everyday object. It may also have introduced him to the nonart materials, such as Formica and Celotex (an industrial material that can be produced in large sheets), that he uses frequently.

Artschwager’s work is simultaneously both furniture and sculpture or painting and object (the three-dimensionality of the painting/objects is created by their substantial scale and by the inclusion of the frame as part of the work). By enlarging or framing the object and denying its functionality, Artschwager sets out to defamiliarize his everyday objects and imagery. In this respect, Artschwager’s work is perhaps closest to that of his contemporary Claes Oldenburg, whose irreverent and humorous soft-fabric sculptures depict oversize objects or food. Artschwager’s work, however, has a Minimalist simplicity and elegance that sets it apart from that of the iconoclastic Pop artists.

Although the actual view of the apartment room in Polish Rider I was taken from a magazine illustration and reproduced, enlarged, with the aid of a grid, onto an enormous panel of Celotex, the title refers to Rembrandt’s Polish Rider (c. 1655; Frick Collection, New York) in which the figure of the rider blocks the point at which the perspectival lines would intersect. In the MCA’s Polish Rider, Artschwager has chosen an image in which the receding space comes to a similarly abrupt halt, blocked by the apartment’s rear wall. In a letter to a curator at the MCA, Artschwager commented that, “In the Rembrandt painting the figure or the ‘wall’ is both in repose and in stop-motion: this is also true of the ‘wall’ in your painting, with somewhat different devices at work.” Polish Rider I is one of a series of four works that share the same title and represent similar interior scenes with the sharp perspectival recession blocked: none of them bears a direct resemblance to Rembrandt’s painting.

Artschwager’s practice of restricting his palette to black, white, and gray (or grisaille) for these interior scenes helps to re-create the photographic appearance of the image. The uneven, bumpy texture of the Celotex reinforces the documentary feeling, drawing a connection to the newspaper print from which the image was originally derived. Close up, the image is fuzzy and difficult to read—a quality that has also been likened to the French nineteenth-century paintings of Eduard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, whose interior scenes have a similar quietude and record the nineteenth-century bourgeois home.