Christoph Rütimann

Mai 36 Galerie

By repeating four words—sitz, bank, gut, and haben—Christoph Rütimann created an ornamental field on a wall near the entrance to his recent show. Although typically in German all nouns are capitalized, here the letters were all lowercase, so the words could be read as either nouns or verbs, generating a repertoire of interrelated meanings. “Bank” suggested the idyllic: to sit on a bench and have it good. “Guthaben beim Sitz” evoked the pragmatic: to have money sitting in a bank. The networks of words suggested the political (or the Swiss version of the political): Who has it good when certain “credits” sit in a bank? Without explicitly entering into the current debate about the policy of Swiss banks and the Swiss government with respect to outstanding debts owed Holocaust victims, Rütimann deployed apparently harmless phrases to raise troubling questions.

A bench formed of stacked bathroom scales was placed across from the wall of words: it was covered by a board that served as a surface on which to sit. Whoever sat down could not, of course, measure his or her weight, because the scales were piled one on top of the other and could not be readily seen. And what did the scales themselves weigh? In Scale Sculpture, 1991, in which Rütimann stacked seven commercial scales on top of one another to form a column, the bottom scale was so overloaded that it showed the same approximate needle position as the uppermost scale. The bench, which wrapped around a partition wall, and the columns of scales, which lined another wall, also mimicked—with a certain degree of irony—structural elements in the gallery space.

Only Yellow Wall II, 1996, with its interplay of glass, color, and mirrored light, did not involve gravity or measurement. In this work, pieces of glass in various sizes, with their backs painted yellow were paired along the rear wall of the space. Seen from afar, leaning vacantly against one another, they suggested the illusion of autonomy promised by Modernist painting.

Rütimann recontextualizes individual works in various larger installations, so that they form part of a continually changing field of signification. In each, the function of the architectural space remains unclear. Above this gallery in the center of the city, for example, there is a doctor’s waiting room, its tense silence giving added resonance to certain vexing questions: Does a scale’s needle move without mediation (i.e., is any sort of objective measurement possible), and does the one who “has banks” always “sit well”?

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.