Christoph Rütimann, Waagenbank (Bench of Scales), 1996, 122 scales, MDF, 1' 6 1/2“ × 13' 5 3/8” × 1' 3/4".

Christoph Rütimann, Waagenbank (Bench of Scales), 1996, 122 scales, MDF, 1' 6 1/2“ × 13' 5 3/8” × 1' 3/4".

Christoph Rütimann

Christoph Rütimann, Waagenbank (Bench of Scales), 1996, 122 scales, MDF, 1' 6 1/2“ × 13' 5 3/8” × 1' 3/4".

Long-standing and fruitful relationships between artists and their galleries have become exceptionally rare. Mai 36 Galerie and Christoph Rütimann, however, share a history that goes back three decades and now underlies an exhibition whose density and wide chronological range—it includes work created between 1984 and 2014—make it a sort of scale model for a larger retrospective.

In an early piece, LAW, 1986, the artist literally puts the lid on Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917: The black oval toilet lid, mounted on the wall like a painted panel so that its underside is on display, recalls the abstract black elemental forms of painting by Kazimir Malevich. Right next to it, the three cursive letters of LAW spell out modernism’s “law.” The conceptual foundations of modernity are up for grabs in Rütimann’s art, as are its visual resources: Both are malleable materials in an ongoing game determined by physical forces—most prominently, by gravity—and by sudden twists of language and thought. Scales appear in a wide variety of guises: Neatly stacked up in Waagenbank (Scale Bench), 1996, for instance, they support a bench that purports to measure the visitor’s weight, while 2 Kilogramm 250 Gramm in Gips, 2005, weighs the mass of plaster in which the scale, a consummate sculptural object, is forever trapped.

Rütimann’s “Handläufe” (Handrails) videos exert an unabating visual force that seems to pull us along with it. A handheld camera speeds along the handrails of banisters in interior as well as exterior settings, crashing through dividing walls, unexpectedly breaking out of houses, and exploring urban spaces. Through this cyclopean eye we travel through Venice in one work, London in another, as though on a roller-coaster ride, the vanishing point of our breathless scanning perpetually kicked down the road. A similarly headlong tracking shot in Zurich in Handlauf Rämistrasse (Handrail Rämistrasse), 2005, takes us from the galleries of the kunsthaus through the Mai 36 Galerie itself and into the dining room at the restaurant Kronenhalle on Bellevue Square. As the trance of perception overcomes us, the only things to hold on to in the current show are a few barricades bolted to the floor, although the restless flow on the flat screens already tugs at the handrails.

Even Rütimann’s static works have an expansive quality. Krafstrasse 35, Eine Installation, 1992, an array of both black-and-white and color images, offers a tour of a vacant home; there are curved rods slicing right through the walls, ceilings, and hardwood floors, and as we survey the rooms, we cannot but conclude that an entire building has become the medium for a massive graphical intervention by a giant linear creature. Sparing no effort, Rütimann mobilizes and probes the spheres of visibility, the realm of gravity, and the idea of Euclidean space only to reveal that they are ultimately also blank slates onto which a thinking unfettered by physical limitations sketches its visions.

Large zones of acrylic paint behind glass panes casually leaning against the wall and one another—Rütimann has been making such works since the early 1990s—may have reminded the visitor of painting. But they also preserve, in the mode of tongue-in-cheek allusion, the memory of Duchamp’s Large Glass. Toying with the semiotic systems of not only art but also the natural sciences, language, and architecture, Rütimann teases out ever-novel inflections.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.