Rainer Ruthenbeck

Galerie Ute Parduhn

Rainer Ruthenbeck’s recent exhibition formed part of a large project entitled “Düsseldorf Avant-Garde,” for which 28 different galleries in the city presented retrospective exhibitions of work by various artists. Ruthenbeck chose to reconstruct a work he created during the ’70s, in which he covered the gallery floor with a sea of black paper. Through this simple act, he radically altered one’s perception of the space, invoking a sense of tension and equilibrium.

Since the ’60s Ruthenbeck has worked toward developing a visual language rooted in a spare formalism and the use of simple materials. He has described his work as “esthetic research,” and his objects as “neutral” and “precise”; for him, unlike his former teacher, Joseph Beuys, objects and materials, rather than being freighted with symbolic meaning, seem to exist in a state of total suspension. In most of his projects Ruthenbeck has subtly altered quotidian objects and materials to render them at once strange and familiar. The works he created during the ’80s often incorporated furniture; for Documenta 7, for example, he converted three tables into sculpture by attaching an object—a green block, a brown box, and a blue globe—to each one, contrasts in color and texture emphasizing their abstract character. At Documenta 9, in a simple but startling gesture, he dramatically relit the two elevators of the Friedericianum—bathing the left one in deep red light, the right in bright blue.

Strategies like the one Ruthenbeck used in this last show have in the past led some to associate his work with arte povera, but he uses impoverished materials more to foreground their ephemeral nature and suggest transitional states than to emphasize their materiality. In this show, for example, the paper seemed to enlarge and transform the gallery space. There was a playful, subversive aspect to the otherwise coolly enigmatic character of this intervention. If the paper’s dark coloration did not ultimately suggest a certain somberness, the show could have been interpreted as a lighthearted comment on the rigidity of most exhibition spaces. Ultimately elusive in its meaning, the work’s most powerful effect, in the end, was one of ephemerality and metamorphosis.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.