Reiner Ruthenbeck

Red Cloth with Stretcher


Not on display

Reiner Ruthenbeck born 1937
Original title
Rotes Tuch mit Spannrahmen
Cotton and embroidery ring
Object: 35 × 670 × 695 mm
Presented by Ida Gianelli 2013


Red Cloth with Stretcher 1973 is a multiple work produced in an edition of ninety that combines a square piece of burgundy red cotton with a metal and wooden embroidery circle. Isolating a section of fabric at the centre of the material and pulling it taut via the device, the sculptural object is geometrically minimalist and visible to the viewer as a circle within a square. It is not known what number in the edition this particular copy of the work is. It was given by the artist directly to Italian curator and art historian Ida Gianelli, who gifted it to 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 reactionary thinking around the role of the viewer in the artwork.

Red Cloth with Stretcher 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 geometry as primary compositional elements. Fabricated from a simple piece of red cotton, it also employs an economy of material. The embroidery circle which shapes the red material creates a taut and defined circular canvas in the middle of the fabric square. Curiously suggestive – despite its blankness – it encourages the viewer to wait patiently as if something may appear on its surface. 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 idolisation of the individual art object. Editions – as this and the related Corner Cloth 1974, 1975 (Tate T14077) show – are an important part of his practice, breaking down barriers between the singular and the multiple.

A constant 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 Red Cloth with Stretcher, a duality between the square shape of the fabric cloth and the circular form of the stretcher, as well as between the soft, pliant quality of the material as opposed to the hard, constraining nature of the stretcher, is central to the reception of the object. The work can perhaps be seen to be informed by 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 Corner Cloth.

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).

Further reading
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 and Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg 2008, reproduced pp.133, 143.

Hannah Dewar
January 2013

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