(American, 1923 – 2013)
Stainless steel with lights, pine trees and painted metal tree
32 x 60 x 155 ft.
Chazen Museum of Art; Anonymous Fund, Elvehjem Museum of Art General Endowment Fund, Harry and Margaret P. Glicksman Endowment Fund, Cyril W. Nave Endowment Fund, and John H. Van Vleck Endowment Fund purchase, 1991.12
Along the main thoroughfare of University Avenue in front of the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building are three sets of inconspicuous objects that comprise Richard Artschawager’s artwork Generations. This installation is a progression of three sections, each with an evergreen tree and a Plexiglas sphere. Each section combines man-made elements with nature. To the west, a small evergreen tree and sphere are raised high off the ground, perching on stainless steel columns. As the sculpture progresses east, these forms are reiterated. The next section is a direct copy but a fraction of the height, and the third tree is planted directly into the ground beside the Plexiglas dome, peeking out of the grass. The tallest tree is fabricated from steel and aluminum, designed to withstand harsh climates, whereas the other two trees are living.
Generations’s meaning is open ended to the viewer. To some it may symbolize growth or evolution through life. Others may anthropomorphize the objects and consider generations in their own family. In either interpretation Generations remains familiar. Artschwager’s use of architectural and seemingly ordinary structures makes Generations appear to be timeless, inherent to the site.
Artschwager, an internationally renowned painter and sculptor, glides through standard art historical categories of Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, transcending their boundaries. His bodies of work are divergent, but he is best known for turning vernacular household objects on their head. This results in enigmatic objects that appear simultaneously familiar yet strange. During his lifetime, Artschwager received two major retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, one in 1988 and the second in 2012. Between 1990 and 1991 he worked intimately with a public sculpture committee at the Elvehjem Museum of Art, now the Chazen Museum of Art, to conceptualize and execute Generations, a site-specific installation.
Generations is located outside the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building at the intersection of University Avenue and East Campus Mall.
Celant, Germano, Herbert Muschamp, and Russell Panczenko. “Richard Artschwager: PUBLIC (public).” exhibition catalogue, Elvehjem Museum of Art, 1991.
Gross, Jennifer R. Richard Artschwager! New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012.