Informed by his background in furniture making, Artschwager’s deceptive sculptures often fuse ordinary, functional objects with artistic representation. In Table and Chair, for example, swooping brushstrokes transport a simple prefabricated table and chair into the realm of painted illusion. Stripped of color like a black-and-white photograph, the pattern imitates and enlarges the natural texture beneath. With its exaggerated representation of wood on top of wood, this pivotal early sculpture marked Artschwager’s shift from cabinetmaker to artist and launched his experiments in transforming at once specific examples and conceptual ideas of everyday items into works of art.
In 1962 Artschwager made Portrait I, a companion piece to Table and Chair. He covered a standard dresser in the same faux-wood grain and propped a Celotex portrait suggestive of the artist himself where a mirror might sit. As Artschwager described in a 1965 interview, “I’m making objects for nonuse. . . . By killing off the use part, nonuse aspects are allowed living space, breathing space.” Just as a painting replaces a mirror in Portrait I, a lower shelf obstructs the leg room under the table in Table and Chair, diminishing the use value of the set. Artschwager further displaced the functional aspects of furniture in sculptures such as Table and Chair (1963–64), where light and dark panels on solid, boxlike forms become abstracted markers of common objects and the space they occupy. He would also continue to blur the boundaries between surfaces and materials in the similarly painted frames of A Postmodern Idyll (1992) and MacGregor Park (1993) and the faux-wood Formica of Triptych III (1967).