Ulrich Rückriem

Donald Young Gallery

Ulrich Rückriem’s eight pieces in blue granite that were shown here, all done in 1986 and left untitled, embody a hard poetry of material and sculptural means. These great blocks of stone, taken from a quarry near Vire, Normandy, were chosen by the artist with this capacious concrete-floored gallery in mind. Four works jut from the walls; four more stand in open space. All possess a splendid clarity of form and execution.

Rückriem settled upon his limited formal vocabulary nearly 20 years ago. Since then he has pursued his artistic program with a rigor and restraint commensurate with the nearly implacable resistance of his material. In so doing, he too has come to be seen as having an implacable nature, a notion that gives autobiographical resonances to the gestures apparent in the creation of each work.

Rückriem splits his stones or cuts them with a stone saw, sometimes both in the same work. He has left most of the surfaces in these sculptures rough-hewn, polishing only a single face in two of them. There is no part of this work that demonstrates a precedence of technique over the material. But as wholes, each demonstrates what can only be called an essential balance between the massiveness of the stone and the artist’s incisive portioning.

These are large pieces—the tallest of the wall works reaches 105 1/2 inches—but not “looming,” or “towering,” or any adjective connoting space aggressively occupied. They are simply here, communing with each other according to the logic of the installation. In each of two freestanding works and two square wall works in the main gallery room, Rückriem has made a vertical cut that bisects the upper section of stone. If you peer through the vertical cut in one of the freestanding works, you can see the similarly placed cut in one of the wall works; each pair of works has been aligned specifically for this sighting. The fifth piece in the room—also against a wall—is nearly square, cut to create a smaller square central face whose polished surface is inset within a “frame” of rough rock. The suggestion of a painted, and hence illusory, space is clearly felt in the polished surface of sparkling particulate granite.

In a work shown by itself in another room, a single block has been cut so that four rough-hewn slabs enclose a smaller cube of granite. The smaller cube is slightly recessed within the enclosing slabs, and only its polished upper face is visible. The cube and the slabs that contain it rest atop a base created by splitting the original block horizontally. Here (and in six of the other works) the line of plug holes used in this procedure is plainly visible, punctuation marks of the stonemason’s syntax.

The grid delineated through Rückriem’s methods of partitioning offers an interior geometry whose structures are completed in the mind—Pythagorean reflections that metaphorically lessen the weight of these stones.

Buzz Spector