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Richard Artschwager Does More With Less

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Clockwise from left, Exclamation Point (Chartreuse) (2008), Description of a Table (1964), and Journal II (1991).   

I ask him about New Mexico’s recent reappearance in his work. “That’s nostalgia,” he says. “That’s where I come from.” He points at his living-room window’s interior-courtyard view, the kind of limited vista that would send most country boys screaming back home. “I’ve adjusted to that. But once in a while I feel the time falling by, and [I think], What the hell am I doing here? I visit [the Southwest] every so often, but not often enough. It clears my head.”

There’s another reason that Artschwager might be experiencing a touch of New York City malaise. He and his wife, Ann, recently sold their primary home, a converted church in Hudson, New York. (They kept a small live-work space upstate in what used to serve strictly as Artschwager’s studio, and converted that into their main living space.) They’re hoping their streamlined life will free them to travel and spend more time in the Southwest. “That atmosphere, that climate—it’s all poetry,” he says. “One’s appetites are for anything—for this moment. I’m not a kid anymore, and I can see the clock is ticking. That’s what pushes me now.” Besides, he adds, “I’m not married to anything except for my wife.” Over and over, as we speak, he cites Freud’s “pleasure principle,” the insistence that the id’s primary motivation is to avoid its natural state of pain. It’s his primary motivation now, he says, and it’s what he hopes to communicate at the Whitney: “It’s a chance to see a body of work and make some pleasure for other people. You can make pleasure for oneself, but there is pleasure in making pleasure for other people too. There isn’t any art until some creature sees and consumes it. And has a reaction.”

Richard Artschwager!
Whitney Museum of American Art
Opens Oct. 25


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