Reiner Ruthenbeck

Galerie Klein; Galerie Tanja Grunert

Baudelaire, one of the first apologists of Modernism, demanded the unexpected of an artwork. But when technology becomes as innovative as art, the new loses that oppositional strength that was so dear to Baudelaire’s heart. Reiner Ruthenbeck’s contrary strategy is slowness. In 1978 he created Weisses Dreieck (White Triangle), a metal staff inserted into a cloth ring, which is attached to the wall by a bolt; the bolt and the weight of the staff create the triangular shape of the cloth. Now, ten years later, he has created Rotes Dreieck mit verbogener Grundlinie III (Red triangle with twisted base line III, 1988). Comparing this piece with the 1978 work, one can see that apart from the different color of the cloth ring, and the addition of irregular twists in the metal staff, the causal relationship between the determinant (the staff) and the determined (the cloth) remains the same in both pieces. The element of newness arises from the tension relationship between the irregular and regular forms: any change in the irregular form would necessarily imply a change in the regular one, while the reverse would always maintain the base line of the triangle. This is the logic of the paradox of the title, the “twisted base line.” Such an example highlights not only Ruthenbeck’s stringent pursuit of what he once called his “esthetic research,” but also the length of time for such research, and it applies to all the works in this exhibition. Each one expands concepts that often were first realized years ago. The small changes in the current works clarify the esthetic problems that Ruthenbeck presents to his viewers.

The other pieces in the show at Galerie Klein reveal the structure of polar elements, their mutual tension, and their possible transformation into a totality: Blau/Rote Überkreuzung in Rahmen (Blue/red crisscross in frame, 1985–88) and Weiss-Schwarzer Reifen (White-black tire, 1986) are entirely self-contained, and they demonstrate a lucid simplicity. In other works, the potential of polarity and unity is transitory, as in Weiss/Schwarze Staubüberkreuzung, variable I (White/black staff cross, variable I, 1988). This potential can depend on the position of the viewer, as in two works that are hung one above the other, the blue/red and black/white Doppelringe (Double rings, both 1985). In Blau/Rote Überkreuzung auf zwei Spiegeln, II (Blue/red crossing on two mirrors, II, 1988), in which a blue and a red stripe join together, the concept of polarity and unity achieves its most complex form. The stripes would form a perfect cross only if the viewer found himself at their intersection; yet at that precise moment, by standing between the mirrors, he actually covers the possible connection, and it remains purely conceptual. It recalls the principle stated by Heraclitus, that “every event results from an antithesis.”

This idea applies as well to Schwarzes Nasses Tuch (Black wet cloth, 1988), which was displayed at the Galerie Tanja Grunert. This piece consists of a huge, shiny black surface, kept wet constantly by a water hose; it rests on the floor, forming puddles that reflect both the cloth and the room. Like the triangles, this work is one which endlessly reconstitutes its form. Recalling an earlier version from 1972, it has lost nothing in its present form; Ruthenbeck’s works occupy space sensually, and, as such, they ward off any thought of historicity.

Martin Hentschel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.