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Richard Artschwager

Description of Table

1964

Richard Artschwager, Description of Table, 1964  66.48
Richard Artschwager, Description of Table, 1964. Melamine laminate on plywood, 26 1/8 × 31 7/8 × 31 7/8 in. (66.4 × 81 × 81 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation Inc.  66.48 For Teachers
© 2009 Richard Artschwager / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

about this work

Richard Artschwager’s Description of Table consists of a simple plywood cube inlaid with pieces of black, white, and faux wood-grain Formica. Cold in appearance and industrially produced, Formica is a material disdained by craftsmen for its tacky cheapness—“the great horror of the Age,” Artschwager called it. Yet he used it precisely because it reflected the contemporary moment. Moreover, it could achieve certain illusionistic effects: used in place of wood or cloth, the Formica functions as an image of these materials, seamlessly integrating the artist’s representation of a table with the thing itself. In the words of one critic, Artschwager creates “mental furniture,” witty, wry, and full of contradiction. Description of Table recalls the reductive geometries of Minimalist sculptures, but uncharacteristic of Minimalism is the suggestion of something beyond geometry—a cloth-draped table, with the black rectangles below evoking the table’s empty, negative space.

Maxwell L. Anderson. American Visionaries: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2001), 35.

Ibid.

Look Closer

What shapes and colors do you see?

What do you think this might be made out of?

Where might you find this object?

Does this object have a purpose? If so, what do you think it is?

Activities

Description of Table (1964) consists of a simple plywood cube inlaid with pieces of black, white, and faux wood-grain laminates. Richard Artschwager (b. 1923) cleverly laid out the different colored laminates on the cube to create the illusion of a cloth-draped table. Ask students to consider the properties of a table and debate if Description of Table can in fact be a table.

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