Banner photo credit: Fionn Reilly
Janet Ruttenberg: Beholder
September 14 – December 29, 2019
Opening: Saturday, September 14, 6 – 8 PM
Curated by Elsa Mora and Charles Stuckey
“When I look at the park, one of the things that I am seeking to see is the underlying mathematical structure. . . . It is like cracking a code. Once you see it, there is a truth.” – Janet Ruttenberg, Gatherings
ArtYard is pleased to present Janet Ruttenberg: Beholder, an exhibition featuring eleven of Ruttenberg’s recent ten-by-fifteen-foot canvases and watercolors celebrating Central Park’s famous Sheep Meadow. Her works of this monumental scale have been exhibited only once before, in 2013 at the Museum of the City of New York. As a rule, Ruttenberg has pursued her work with rigor and focus while avoiding art-world dicta and public recognition. Since 2013 her art has become ever more experimental, as she integrates photography and video with her complex paintings to seize the day in every way possible.
An astonishingly original, albeit extremely private artist, Ruttenberg is an obsessive observer of both the landscape and the people who enjoy it. She documents her observations, both mundane and poetic, bringing lengths of paper and long brushes to Sheep Meadow every day that it is open. In Blue Jeans, Condoms (100 inches x 184 inches) a recumbent couple is depicted in the foreground on the Meadow. The grandeur of Manhattan’s skyline is put into poetic perspective by the beguiling tattoo revealed on the woman’s back. There is a seductive blend of unfettered exuberance, technical mastery, and allusions to famous antecedents, such as Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, in Ruttenberg’s works. The paintings are difficult to pigeonhole and wholly her own.
An insatiable photographer and videographer, Ruttenberg has, since around 2010, juxtaposed and superimposed images she has recorded with her camera into her work, often framing the paintings with her photographs and videos or inserting the images directly into the paintings, setting off a conversation between two divergent approaches to representation. She also projects videos onto paintings, as in her hybrid video/paintings of the tango dancers that encircle the statue of Shakespeare in Central Park on summer nights.
Born in 1931, Janet Ruttenberg began painting at the age of five under the tutelage of an accomplished uncle, Abel Warshawsky. Her mother sent her to boarding school at age fourteen, she says, to prevent her from staying up all night painting. The plan had no effect. She went on to study art at the University of Iowa under master printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. After her formal training, she deconstructed the canon, making extensive study of beloved paintings and prints in order to tease out their secrets. While raising four children in the ensuing decades, she continued to paint in the same enthralled, observant manner. ArtYard’s exhibition will include Ruttenberg’s explorations of the soft-ground technique used by the Impressionist master Mary Cassatt to make color etchings, as well as a selection of her monumental Park Avenue panels, where the artist layered etchings with images of people in automobiles whose streamlined glass and steel surfaces reflect transient images of skyscrapers. The paintings are the work of a mature artist encountering the world for the first time.
Janet Ruttenberg painting in Central Park
Photo by Sarah Bertalan