Claude Rutault

Galerie De Lege Ruimte

For the past fifteen years, Claude Rutault has created a series of works that constitute an obsessive exploration of the relationship between the painting, its physical environment, and its multiple levels of signification. Whether by varying the size and shape of the canvas, or by linking the canvas and the wall through the use of color, Rutault’s art is based on the concepts of difference, similarity, and familiarity. These concepts inform our perception of the work itself.

Rutault’s most recent installation, Toiles tendues sur chassis a peindre de la même couleur que le mur sur lequel elles doivent être accrochés (Canvases on a stretcher to be painted the same color as the wall on which they are to be hung, 1988), was situated within a warehouse-like gallery. Upon first entering, one had an overwhelming impression of the emptiness of the space. The wall farthest from the entrance was painted an orange-yellow color. Three-quarters of the far wall was blocked by a white wall bearing a plaque reading (in French) “TO SELL: Stretched canvas on frames. TO PAINT: The same color as the wall on which they will be hung. Claude Rutault, inquire within.” On the rear wall, behind the sign, was a perpendicular canvas, painted the same color as the wall.

Rutault transforms the space within which he is exhibiting into a function of the artwork. Yet his work is not an architectural restructuring of space, in which new coordinates take shape from a reconstitution of previous ones. The paintings, and their insistence on being integrated within an existing space, underline the mutability of our environment.

In a sense, it is more precise to talk of Rutault’s pieces as strategies than as artworks. The latter term implies a certain sense of autonomy, of existing as a commodity in and of itself. Yet Rutault is more concerned with establishing or referring to structures whose unity turns out to be illusory. Thus, in an earlier piece, Rupture 3, 1976, he produced a series of canvases that are variants on a circle, each one in the form of a section (half-circle, quarter-circle, etc.). The canvases, or “elements” as Rutault calls them, are also to be painted the same color as the wall upon which they are hung. The number of variations upon this theme is limitless. Rather than formally exhaust the possibilities of a given situation, Rutault fixes his strategy in the center of a series of endless permutations, thus taking it beyond the original negation implied in the relationship between painting and wall.

Likewise, in a piece created for the storage room here, Un mur, une pile (A wall, a pile, 1988) the artist has taken all the works that are being kept there, turned them to face the wall, and arranged them in order of decreasing size. What the viewer sees are works without a face, with none of their original characteristics other than scale. Rather than condition space, the works merely occupy it. In this work, which foregrounds the unseen, and in the piece occupying the main gallery, which doubles the process of vision, Rutault brings the painting back to its primary status as object, and throws the subsequent investment of aura and meaning into crisis.

Michael Tarantino