New York

Ulrich Ruckriem

Brooke Alexander

Ulrich Rückriem’s austere, abstract sculptures have seldom been shown or written about in the United States. His recent exhibition coincides with a renewed interest in contemporary abstract art that makes use of Minimalist and post-Minimalist precedents. Rückriem began his career as a stonemason and worked on the restoration of Cologne Cathedral. In 1962, he began working as a sculptor and made mostly figurative work. In the late ’60s, after seeing the work of Carl Andre, Richard Serra, and others, he reevaluated his approach to sculpture, and developed a conceptual program that enabled him to use the basic stonemason’s tools to investigate and distill the essential properties of quarried stone. Rückriem uses chisels, saws, drills, and grinders to “draw” in and on the stone. The “drawing” sets in motion a dialectic between the worked and unworked surface, surface and interior, and the overall form and internal shapes. Like his Minimalist forerunners, Rückriem makes the placement of his work a central issue, often creating site-specific pieces.

Each of the four sculptures here consisted of several similarly sized slabs of dolomite or steel. In Untitled, 1986–87, a vertically oriented piece, three dolomite blocks have been cut into equal units. The proportional relationship between height and diameter evokes three stacked invisible cubes. Rückriem interrupts this relationship with a horizontal row of drilled holes, which have been determined by dividing the vertical blocks into quarters or halves. The holes, the artist’s intervention, reveal the inherent tensions and material character of the dolomite. Elsewhere, the dialectic is between the visible and invisible, the raw and smooth, and the natural and artificial. In Untitled, 1989, six square slabs are paired into two rows. In each of the three pairs, Rückriem has divided the squares into two equal halves, then equal quarters and equal eighths. He interrupts this pairing by using various masonry tools to smooth half of the surface of each of the squares in one row. Each division directs our attention to either form or surface.

Rückriem’s work is partly about the irreducibility of the binary world. Behind his linear divisions and insistence on the pairing of smooth and rough surfaces lies a sense of the nature, identity, and character of stone. But Rückriem makes no attempt to personify the stone. Instead, he finds ways to investigate its specific material identity. His sense of interlocking proportional relationships reminds us that geometry is rooted in both human measure and a sense of wonderment. Rückriem’s work possesses a supple, engaging clarity.

John Yau