Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now

John Armleder
(Swiss, born 1948)

John Armleder. Untitled. 1986

Synthetic polymer paint and China ink on canvas, with two chrome and vinyl chairs, Canvas 8' 1/4" x 48 1/8" (244.3 x 122.3 cm), each chair 18 1/2 x 20 x 28" (47 x 50.8 x 71.1 cm); overall 8' 1/4" x 7' 9 1/4" x 28" (244.3 x 236.8 x 71.1 cm). Gift of Raymond J. Learsy and Gabriella De Ferrari. © 2018 John Armleder

NARRATOR: John Armleder, speaking in 2000:

JOHN ARMLEDER: The first time I visited the Modern, that's in '56. My mother was American and she brought us to the States, I was eight years old. And walking through the Modern with my brother and my mother, I suddenly saw the White Square of Malevich and was riveted to it. And my mother and my brother had to come back to fetch me, because I was just not moving. I looked at my mother and showed her the painting and told her, ‘Look, this is modern art and that's what I want to do later on. That story was repeated to me again and again, and it's repeated today in the fact that I'm showing a white piece at the Modern.

The piece uses a very classical structure, which is a triptych with a large central piece, and side pieces. And all the work is using white, basically white or colorless scheme. The painting is a large canvas, primed. There's no other paint on it than the primer, and you see rings. Those rings were the construction drawings for a painting to be. The painting was never completed. It was left in a studio I had in New York in the '80s.

Later on, I finished the work by adding those two Modernist '30s chairs. They lose their chair quality by being installed almost like chandeliers or something like that. When they're placed in that way, they become very structural, they become very formal. It's just about lines, non-colors, like silver or chrome and white. You're experiencing a painting, which has a three-dimensional quality to it and then, from then on, you do what you want with it. It could be like an altar, sort of a church kind of a construction. It could be just like plain, formalist arrangement, or it could remind you of the same chair you perhaps have at home.

I never consider a piece as started or finished. There's a plan and then what happens, happens. The chairs have a history that I don't know about, because they're used chairs. And the fact that this painting was intended for something else just shows that whatever you use, there's something else to it than what you believe you know or you master.

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