Corner Cloth is a medium-sized minimalist fabric sculpture produced in 1974 or 1975. Fabricated from a square of dark red cotton, it is reinforced on its underside with metal eyelets which hold the material taut against the wall. The fabric square is rotated at ninety degrees to form a diamond shape and is installed across the corner created by the join between two walls of a room. The piece exists in an edition of three, of which this is number two. The work was exhibited as part of Ruthenbeck’s exhibition at Ida Gianelli’s Samangallery in Genoa, Italy, in 1979 and was purchased by Gianelli on the occasion. It remained in her ownership until acquired by Tate in 2013.
Following his initial training and employment as a photographer in Velbert, Germany, Ruthenbeck studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts between 1962 and 1968 under the influential teacher and artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). While his work remains very different to that of his tutor, it nonetheless demonstrates the lingering influence of the diverse sculptural practices that proliferated in Düsseldorf during the 1960s, including minimalist approaches to the medium and revolutionary thinking around the role of the viewer in the artwork.
Composed of a single geometric shape, Corner Cloth is produced according to Ruthenbeck’s typically minimalist aesthetic. Characterised by a refined formal vocabulary and an economy of colour, the work makes use of line and right angles as primary compositional elements. Fabricated from a simple piece of red cotton, it also employs an economy of material. Left to serve as an indicator of meaning in its own right – rather than being used as one part of a complex composition – the material functions simultaneously as texture, form and content. Despite the work’s role as revealer of its own meaning, however, Ruthenbeck steadfastly refuses the idolisation of the individual art object. Editions – as this and the related Red Cloth with Stretcher 1973 (Tate T14076) show – are an important part of his practice, breaking down barriers between the singular and the multiple.
A dualism between opposing forces is present in much of Ruthenbeck’s work. Polarities such as soft and hard, smooth and angular, and light and heavy recur throughout his work, informing the choice of material and composition. In Corner Cloth, a duality between stability and instability is central to the reception of the object. Pinned to the wall on which it is displayed, the metal eyelets which secure the sculpture in place and hold the fabric taut are not visible from the viewer’s vantage point, creating the impression that it floats of its own accord. As such, a sense of balance and precariousness is introduced into the work as it grapples with two opposing forces. Gravity appears suspended as the fabric square remains against the wall, despite the viewer’s awareness of the forces which seek to pull it down. Corner Cloth is nonetheless executed with a deep sense of respect for the power and strength of the object to remain where it is in the face of these forces. Such an attitude relates, perhaps, to the artist’s understanding of transcendental meditation, a form of mantra meditation that was introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and which Ruthenbeck has practiced since 1972. Speaking about his experiences of meditation in relation to his sculpture, Ruthenbeck has said that while his works are ‘not, of course, illustrations of transcendence … the meditation experience certainly is reflected in my work’ (quoted in Holeczek 1994, p.6). This meditative quality is equally reflected in the slightly earlier work Red Cloth with Stretcher.
Corner Cloth is a distinctly material object, despite its simplicity. Its situation within the corner of the gallery brings the viewer’s attention to the parameters and boundaries of the room in which it is displayed, locating it securely in space despite its flotational tendencies. Speaking in 1986 about his approach to life and art, Ruthenbeck said: ‘In my work I have often presented contrasts, polar elements, tensions, and tried to bring these into a formal unity. I have reduced formal structures as far as possible. The result seems to offer relatively little nourishment to the intellect. I would like thereby to bring the viewer to a contemplative, holistic acceptance of my art’ (quoted in Holeczek 1994, p.9).
Bernhard Holeczek, Reiner Ruthenbeck, London 1994, pp.2–10.
Andreas Bee, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Frankfurt 1996.
Reiner Ruthenbeck: Werkverzeichnis der Installation, Objekte und Konzeptarbeiten, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, and Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg 2008, reproduced pp.133, 143.
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