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Portrait credits: Joshua Bright for the New York Times (left) & Sarah Bertalan (right)

ArtYard ArtYard is honored to present Janet Ruttenberg: Beholder, featuring the artists’ massive, joyous tableaux of Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, a 59-foot-long installation of stainless steel etchings, her tango projection paintings, and a reverse engineering investigative study of a beloved print by Mary Cassat. It may be some time before these works are assembled together in one place. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to capture such a rare experience in this exhibition.

A child prodigy with a successful artist uncle based in Paris as a guide, Janet Kadesky Ruttenberg grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. Created at age 11, the collage poster displayed here decorated her father’s orthodontist office: it shows Dubuque’s 4th Street Elevated with passengers visible through the car windows and overgrown landscape with various animals, all subjects at the heart of her mature prints, paintings, and multimedia works. 

Collage poster created by Janet Ruttenberg at age 11

In 1949, the eighteen-year-old Janet was accepted by Mauricio Lasanky at his acclaimed University of Iowa print workshop, where her first assignment was an engraved self-portrait, on display here.

The two other etchings made under Lasansky look like premonitions of the artist she is today. One portrays a family through their car window and the other shows a film projected in an Iowa City movie theater. The first prefigures her Park Avenue works developed from the late 1960s through the 1970s and the second is an intimation of the paintings into which she would begin to project her own videos around 2008-2009.  

   Etchings created by Janet Ruttenberg at age 18

This exhibition surveys Ruttenberg’s multimedia works, starting in our main gallery with her MOST recent works devoted to Central Park

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, 2019 
Oil, inkjet print collage and mirrored glass on canvas with embedded video screens and neon frame
109 3/4 x 180 x 5 inches

Our main introductory gallery features several of these landscape variations with New Yorkers posed like pagans relaxing in Old Master images of the Golden Age. Stressing the sweep and structure of the landscape, Ruttenberg also incorporates the comings and goings of hundreds of characters, families, friends, sunbathers, lovers all unwitting models for her brush or her camera. To share her excitement with the unfolding scene she pastes photographs here and there to her vast surfaces, or mounts small video screens that capture movement. She has recently added strips of neon to her works as yet another kind of projected light to interact with the rhythms of the light reflected from her paints.

Wind (General Sherman)
Watercolor and pencil on paper
38 x 85 inches (42 x 80 inches framed) 

General Sherman – Calgary Pear Trees
Watercolor
34 x 15 inches (16 x 36 1/2 inches framed)

General Sherman with Baby
Oil on canvas and newsprint paper collage
21 x 27 inches

General Sherman
Pencil on paper
38 1/2 x 111 1/2 inches

General Sherman, 2012-2013
Oil, graphite, collage, gold leaf on canvas
82 1/2  x  180 1/2  inches

Janet Ruttenberg in her studio

In the mid-1980s, Ruttenberg found a studio just steps from Central Park. The idea of painting in the Park held no special interest until walking through it one day, she was struck by the diversity of human interaction juxtaposed with the natural beauty of its surroundings and became inspired. Ever since the Park has been her primary subject.

By around 2008 Ruttenberg was a Park regular, working out-of-doors in Impressionist fashion every day to capture the landscape looking south across the Sheep Meadow to the skyline along 59th Street, a subject that she has already rendered in 52 enormous watercolor studies that are the basis for acrylics and oils of the same scale developed in her studio.

Central Park Watercolor Study #9, 2013
Watercolor
110 x 183 inches

Central Park Study. #23 Vernon, 2016
Watercolor, fluorescent acrylic on paper
110 x 180 inches

Central Park Watercolor Study #17: Scheme, 2014
Watercolor, fluorescent acrylic on paper
110 x 190 inches

Janet Ruttenberg painting in Central Park. Photo by Sarah Bertalan

Central Park Watercolor Study #52 Summer 2018, 2018 
Watercolor on paper
110 x 180 inches

Blue Jeans/Condoms, 2016- 2019
Oil on canvas, neon
96 x 180 inches (100 1/2 x 184 1/2 inches framed)

Magician Video Wall, 2018-2019
Inkjet print on paper with video on LED display screens, projection, and audio. On the verso, paper collage
55 x 180 inches

Love in the Park
Oil on canvas with projected video
48 x 181 inches

Voyeur (Yellow Puzzle), 2013-2017
Watercolor, fluorescent acrylic and paper collage with video on embedded LED display screens and audio
192 x 65 inches (As installed: 123 x 71 x 34 inches)

TOPS AND BOTTOMS

Central Park Watercolor Study #36, Poured Yellow, 2015-2018
Inkjet print, fluorescent acrylic, watercolor, gold leaf on paper
115 x 193 1/2  inches

Returning over and over to the same Sheep Meadow site, Ruttenberg works from fifteen-foot-wide rolls of paper spread on the ground, each one half the height of her monumental landscapes. As an experiment, she had photographs of the skyline of 59th Street inkjet printed onto a roll of her working paper as an upper section matrix. The visual power of the inkjet image immediately provoked more multimedia options, and she seized the opportunity to print photographic images of sections of the skyline interspersed with graphically nearly indistinguishable photographs of her exacting free-hand drawings of other sections of the skyline. Using painstaking photographic and editing processes, a lively pencil sketch of the canopy of dangling branches and leaves completed the 15-foot-wide inkjet print of the skyline, part photographic image, part meticulous drawing. She has been fascinated to match this singular upper matrix to multiple watercolors of the meadow. The stunning variety of compositional interactions between the ink jet and eight different lower sections is an object lesson in the intricacies of compositional alignment and visual balance in the representation of a single place of constant flux.

 

Park Avenue Car Series

When Janet moved to Manhattan from Chicago in 1965, she was inspired by watching traffic on Park Avenue with buildings and trees reflected off the cars. This gallery contains a selection of the so-called Park Avenue works, her first extended project to celebrate New York and New Yorkers by orchestrating printmaking with photography and painting at an unprecedented scale.

Park Avenue Edition, 1978
2 sets of 6 Panels: Etching on paper, etched stainless steel panel and silkscreened mirrored acrylic panel
28 x 59 inches (each panel)

These complex works have not been seen in public since 1977 when they were exhibited in the Union Carbide Building at 270 Park Avenue. The exhibition included a 70-foot long frieze of 14 horizontal stainless steel panels with mixed media representations of car traffic on Park Avenue as a modern procession in profile, as hieratic as memorial images of ancient Egyptian royalty. Single panels and groups of consecutive panels from the frieze are included in this gallery. Each panel is itself etched and sometimes painted with automotive enamel so that the etching plate is itself developed as the work of art rather than simply a matrix for printing secondary images.

Panels 8, 9 and 10 from original Park Avenue series of 14 panels, 1977  (repainted in 2018)
Etching on paper, etched and painted stainless steel (automotive paint) panel
28 x 59 inches (each panel)

Hinged over car windows are shaped etchings on paper that represent drivers and passengers unaware that they are being observed. An extensive portrait of modern urban consumer culture, the Park Avenue frieze celebrates car culture in keeping with Pop and New Realism paintings and films with cars as icons. The Union Carbide exhibition also included a variety of separate panels, including a 96-inch-wide stainless steel plate etched with a shadowy photographic image of a Ford Fairlane. Three examples of this giant plate are included in this gallery.

Profiles, (Two Cars), 1977
Etching on paper, etched and painted stainless steel (automotive paint) panel,
30 x 60 inches

City Car, Two panels, 1975 
Photograph, silkscreen, etched stainless steel plate,
6 x 12 inches

(Top)
Car Panel, 1976-77
Etched stainless steel, etching on paper
30 x 96 inches

(Middle)
Reflections, 1973
Etching pulled from etched stainless steel plate
29 x 95 inches (30 x 97 inches framed)

(Bottom)
Car (Ford Fairlane)
, 1973
Etched stainless steel
27 x 94 inches

(Top)
Profiles, 1975 
Etching on paper, painted paper, etched stainless steel 
26 x 60 inches

(Bottom)
Mother and Child, 1977
Etching on paper, etched stainless steel 
18 x 48 inches

MARY CASSATT PRINTING TECHNIQUES

Intaglio printmaking techniques such as engraving and etching begin with a polished copper plate. An image is carved or etched from the plate surface with specialized tools and chemical processes. Burins and gravers are used to incise the design directly into an engraving plate. Multiple steps are required to make an etching. The surface of the copper plate is first covered with an acid-resistant coating. The artist uses an etching needle (or similar implement) to make a drawing through this layer. The drawing exposes the copper plate to subsequent biting (etching) in an acid bath.

Proofs after Mary Cassatt, The Omnibus, 1890-91
Drypoint and soft-ground etching on paper
23 x 20 inches framed

To make a print, a completed plate is covered with ink and the excess is wiped away. A sheet of paper is placed on the plate and the two are run through a press. Under pressure, the ink is lifted from every incised and etched line on the plate. Apart from a thin film, a polished copper surface will not hold ink. Numerous techniques are employed to print broad areas of tone from a plate surface.

Related case material to the Etching Process 
3 copper plates, drypoint and soft-ground etching (14 3/4 x 10 3/8 inches)
One small bound notebook with color trials and notes

TANGO

In 2009 Ruttenberg decided to make a painting of the tango dancers who gather for a milonga at twilight every Saturday night during the summer around John Quincy Adams Ward’s 1872 statue of Shakespeare in Central Park. She made hundreds of pencil sketches and watercolor studies on the spot from the sidelines, obliged to work from the bordering bushes and supplemented these myriad studies with videos of the dancers to capture all the various rhythmic and passionate body languages. 

Teeming with embraced couples, the festive scene is reminiscent of Renoir’s masterpiece, Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), transposed to twentieth-century New York City. As she resolved her painting, measuring 50 x 92 inches, from her sketches, at some point Ruttenberg projected her videos onto the painting as an experiment, like a semi-transparent moving collage element or a montage of painting and film. The strange new beauty of the combined techniques was an important breakthrough for Ruttenberg’s art and made her aware of her advanced role in contemporary mixed media art.

First presented in the exhibition of Ruttenberg’s Central Park works at the Museum of the City of New York in 2013, Tango captivated viewers, who stood transfixed for the full ten-minute playtime of the finished video-painting, enhanced with a soundtrack of classic tango vocals. One of the songs was sung by Ruttenberg’s late dear friend, acclaimed fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” (1988) accompanies the final section of the video overlay, featuring Ms. Columbia (the late Osvaldo Gomez of Queens, New York). Indeed, the enthusiastic reception of Tango during the 2013 exhibition seemingly bolstered Ruttenberg’s already longstanding determination to integrate the observations she recorded in videos with manually rendered representations of the same subject into an innovative fully orchestrated multi-media art form all her own.

TINUCUM WILDFLOWER STUDIES, 1970s

Artwork photography © Paul Warchol

Janet in Central Park by Sarah Bertalan

CURATORS

Elsa Mora is an artist and artistic director/curator at ArtYard. Born and raised in Cuba, Mora resides in New York with her husband and their two children. Her work is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and the Long Beach Museum of Art in CA.

Charles Stuckey is a widely published independent scholar who has served as curator in major US museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, helping organize highly acclaimed retrospectives for Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and others.

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