Sometimes people ask whether I am a romantic or a realist artist. I would hope that I fall between the two. . . The ideal artist looks at the future and the past at the same time. The romantic artist spends more time looking backwards. The realist attempts to work in the present but emphasizes the future. However, if you try to predict the future, you seldom succeed.
Over the past four decades, Robert Therrien (1947–2019) cultivated an expansive vernacular of forms drawn from memory and the everyday. Seemingly simple subjects—including snowmen, bows, and oilcans—acquire multiple levels of reference and association, while outsized sculptures of stacks of plates, tables and chairs, and beards shift between the ordinary and the surreal. The repetitive perfecting of chosen motifs is central to his work, imbuing objects and images with intentionality and a latent sense of the unattainable.
Born in Chicago, Therrien emerged on the burgeoning Los Angeles art scene in the late 1970s after completing graduate school at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and studying photography at the Brooks Institute, Santa Barbara, California. At a time when the dominance of Minimalism and Conceptualism was being challenged, Therrien adopted certain formal aspects of these movements, yet allowed his pared-down sculptures and monochrome wall reliefs to take on poetic reference and implied narratives.
Therrien was represented by Leo Castelli in New York and Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf throughout the 1980s and 1990s, during which time his work received increasing international recognition. In 1984 the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, presented the first exhibition of his stand-alone rooms: six re-creations of his Pico Boulevard studio, complete with the artworks therein. The studio would continue to be a subject and conceptual catalyst throughout Therrien’s oeuvre, in which art and domestic life are deeply intertwined. In 1990 he moved to a two-story building that he designed and built according to the layout of the earlier Pico Boulevard studio. This space served as home, repository, workshop, and gallery, allowing Therrien to reference his past works as well as items from everyday life—taking them from two to three dimensions or from small- to large-scale and back again.
In 1991 the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, presented a survey of Therrien’s work since 1969, revealing the evolution of many of his motifs as they vacillate between the familiar and the abstract. The exhibition included a sculpture comprised of three worn white cabinets, which simultaneously echo the seriality of Minimalist sculpture and the intimate tactility and history of found objects. In the early 2000s Therrien continued to reinvent his unique vocabulary, revealing influences including Surrealism, early Hollywood cartoons, childhood myths, and period-specific design. Survey exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2011), the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (2013), and Parasol unit, London (2016), revealed Therrien’s investigations of what he calls “figure-ground play,” wherein an image can evoke many things at once or seem to advance and retreat simultaneously. These chromatic and perspectival effects were expanded in his later room works, in which objects and spaces are reduced not in form but through choice of materials, monochromatic palettes, and presentation of either crowded or eerily sparse interiors.
Parallel to his sculpture practice, Therrien’s works on paper display the uncanny sense of humor behind many of his inventions. The drawings feature motifs such as heads with halos, fork-tailed red devils, gallows, walking feet, and black clouds, usually positioned at the center of the page and shown in silhouette. These depictions are made using various combinations of customized stencils, bleach, Japan Colors, and dye—serving as complex works in and of themselves, as well as foundations for sculptures.
Robert Therrien: The Causal Link to the (Un)Real
In honor of the extraordinary life of Robert Therrien (1947–2019), Aimee Gabbard writes about her time with the artist and explores his lifelong interest in photography.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Under the Table
Robert Therrien’s investigations of form, perception, and subjectivity often isolate recognizable elements and objects from everyday life. Blake Gopnik challenges the traditional readings of transformation and the purpose of scale in Therrien’s No title (folding table and chairs, green).
Alexander Wolf discusses the recurring themes and symbols that have emerged throughout Robert Therrien’s artistic career.
August 5–18, 2021
I see my work as fairly self-contained, almost circular. If you tried to graph it in a linear way, it wouldn’t work. There are too many references going backwards. The work is a little like a spiral because a spiral goes forward and then circles back on itself, then passes itself again.
Gagosian is pleased to present seven works on paper by Robert Therrien (1947–2019) for galleryplatform.la. In addition to sculptures and photographs, Therrien produced an extensive body of work on paper, which conveys a similar fantastical wit. Made using bleach, dye, customized stencils, and other mediums, these delicate drawings, prints, and mixed-media works often incorporate macabre motifs such as gallows and black clouds, suggesting a fascination with folklore beyond the elusive magical potential of ordinary things.
Robert Therrien’s No title (wallpaper with devil) (2001) and No title (head with halo) (2017) installed in the artist’s studio, Los Angeles. Artwork © Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Joshua White
Venice Family Clinic Art Walk
Benefit Auction 2021
April 28–May 12, 2021
Venice Family Clinic presents its annual benefit auction, a fundraising event whose proceeds will provide essential health care services to people in the community regardless of their income, immigration, or insurance status. Since its inception forty years ago, this charity event has raised more than $23 million. This year’s auction, hosted on Artsy, is honoring Mary Weatherford as the “signature artist” and features more than two hundred works by nationally recognized contemporary artists, including Piero Golia, Ed Ruscha, Robert Therrien, as well as Weatherford. To register to bid, visit artsy.net.
Mary Weatherford, Sunset, Western Cape, 2020 © Mary Weatherford. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio
Frieze Los Angeles 2020
How to Shrink L.A.
February 14–16, 2020, booth C06
Paramount Picture Studios, Los Angeles
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Frieze Los Angeles 2020. Taking Los Angeles’s system of highways as a literal and figurative backdrop, the selection includes Richard Prince’s full-scale car sculpture Untitled (2008) and Chris Burden’s ominously oversize L.A.P.D. Uniform (1993). The booth also includes work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Chamberlain, Urs Fischer, Theaster Gates, Piero Golia, Alex Israel, Sally Mann, Adam McEwen, Cady Noland, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Taryn Simon, Robert Therrien, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, and others.
Chris Burden, How to Shrink L.A., 1999 © 2020 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
ON BOARD THE SHIPS
AT SEA ARE WE
February 23–May 18, 2019
FLAG Art Foundation, New York
This exhibition features four works in poetic dialogue: Robert Therrien’s monumental No title (table and six chairs) (2003); Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Pair) (1999); and two text-based works by Lawrence Weiner, including a newly created aphorism from which the show takes its title.
Robert Therrien, No title (table and six chairs), 2003 © Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
August 18–October 7, 2018
Tate Modern, London
Robert Therrien reconstructs our sense of reality by enlarging the most commonplace objects with stunning accuracy. Tables and chairs and stacks of plates, all familiar objects that were designed for mass use and appeal, universally and instantly recognizable, enter the realm of the symbolic once Therrien reimagines and reinvents their scale. The objects’ original form and function evanesce, and something more than what you see emerges.
No Place Like Home
March 1–June 3, 2018
Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal
In celebration of Dada’s one hundredth anniversary in 2016 and the centennial of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain in 2017, this exhibition examines how artists have incorporated commonplace household items into their work, removing these objects from the context of the home in ways that subvert the experiences of daily life. This exhibit has traveled from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Work by Duchamp, Duane Hanson, Damien Hirst, Man Ray, Takashi Murakami, Nam June Paik, Robert Therrien, and Andy Warhol is included.
Robert Therrien, No title (table leg), 2010 © Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Peter Cox
Out of Sight! Art of the Senses
November 4, 2017–February 4, 2018
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Out of Sight! Art of the Senses brings together contemporary works of art that actively engage with how our bodies meet the wider world through the
five basic senses. The artists in this exhibition have created experiences that incorporate viewers into the creative process, inviting them to become fully immersed in art that must be smelled, tasted, heard, and felt. Work by Nam June Paik and Robert Therrien is included.
Robert Therrien, No title (folding table and chairs, beige), 2006, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York © Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York