Richard Artschwager. Johnson Wax Building. 1974 -3

Synthetic polymer paint on board with metal frame, 47 1/2 x 59 1/2" (120.7 x 151.1 cm) including frame. Gift of Edward R. Broida. © 2022 Richard Artschwager / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Narrator: This 1974 piece was based on a photograph of an administrative area of the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For Richard Artschwager, the architectural columns evoked the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak, but they had personal associations too.

Artist, Richard Artschwager: Frank Lloyd Wright's columns blossom out into a sort of a dinner plate form, and where these things mushroom, make an artificial ceiling. They remind me at the time of something that when I had trained in the artillery was camouflaging an artillery emplacement, like a net that goes over the artillery.

Narrator: Artschwager created this image on Celotex, board made of crushed paper fibers. He was attracted by the complexity of its active, textured surface. After painting this picture, he worked to bring the effect closer to the original image.

Richard Artschwager: I wanted it to look more like a photograph. Okay, first of all, it's black and white. It has a certain character, and you heighten that. So, I made a soup of iron oxide black, coating the whole surface with this thin emulsion, draining it off, and tipping it in all directions so that the black would fix first on the parts that stick out the most. And then valleys would maybe get it the least or maybe not get it at all. That was enough to establish that kind of detail that you have in a photograph, without doing the whole thing by hand. And it looks like something that no human could have done that, which is raw ambition.

Narrator: In New York in the 1970s, many artists scorned frames. So Artschwager determined to make them an integral part of his work.

Richard Artschwager: Frames were forbidden by implication, or in some cases, "Frames? What are you doing?" I had things like that said to me.

The frame is this chrome frame which changes as you walk by it, or even as you move your head back and forth. The highlights and the darks change. It's as if it were alive. So that declares that there's a real space that oneself and the frame is in, as they acknowledge one another. Do what's forbidden. Do what nobody else is doing, because then that's open territory.

66 / 107