“In painting, everyone positions their pawns” – Claude Rutault
Galerie Perrotin, New York is pleased to present a collection of works by Claude Rutault, the artist’s first solo exhibition in America following four-decades of prominent and influential practice in France. Rutault’s work, beginning with a 1974 show staged at the office of a Parisian psychoanalyst, has consistently approached painting as a social practice embedded in the living relationships between artwork, artist, gallery, collector, museum and auction house.
The present exhibition features twenty de-finition / methods, including early works such as “positive / negative 2” 1975 and “formats at the limit 2” 1974 (shown at the artist’s studio during a residency at PS1, New York in 1979), as well as three new pieces: “charity begins with others” 2014, “the exhibi- tion” 2014 and “suicide-painting 11” 2014.
Claude Rutault describes himself as a painter; and indeed, viewing any one of his pieces is uncontroversially an encounter with paint on canvas. Rutault, however, does not paint his pieces himself; and neither is he in the business of overseeing their production on the model of a producer, designer, or director running a factory, studio, or workshop. Instead, the mainspring of Rutault’s practice is the writing and issuing of a set of rules, caveats, instructions and pro- cedures called “de-finition/methods,” according to which a gallery, collector, or institution—known as the “charge-taker”—agrees to “actualize” a given work.
The first of these de-finition/methods, created in 1973, provided the germ for the hundreds of unique works to follow. de-finition/method #1. “canvas per unit” 1973 reads: “a stretched canvas painted the same color as the wall on which it’s hung. All commercially available formats can be used, be they rectangular, square, round or oval.” With this initial, relatively spare prescription, the characteristic features of Rutault’s work are evident: open-ended, ongoing, participatory, contractual, and mutually contingent with the conditions and environment in which it is to be actualized. The parameters, shape, color and placement of the painting are constrained only by the ingenuity of its charge-taker in applying the rules established by its de-finition/method, the permutations and specific consequences of which cannot be controlled and could not have been wholly predicted by Rutault. If the charge-taker wishes to change the color of his painting, he must change the color of the wall as well. If the charge-taker wishes to repaint his wall, he must repaint the canvas to match. If he wishes to relocate the work, wall, painting, or both must be repainted according to the de-finition/method. Unforeseen varieties of works ensue, and report of their vagaries must be filed with Rutault—to his surprise, amusement, satisfaction, or conceivably, to his displeasure. In whichever case, he must live apart from his paintings if they are to continue living on their own; and at this juncture his role in relation to the work might be described, equally and alternately, as a referee of a game he has set into motion, as a parent watching his child sink or swim, or as a kind of cataloguer of the changes to and consequences of his own hard work.
The several hundred de-finition/methods composed over the course of Rutault’s career vary in complexity and specificity, narrowing or opening up possible topologies of painting. Taken together, the body of Rutault’s texts might be described as variations on a theme—not unlike the oeuvre of a composer—or the development of a family of painting games engaging with the history and future of the medium. That color is the variable on which the first de-finition/method (and many others) is contingent, should not, however, suggest that Rutault’s interest lies exclusively with color or any other specific material or visual property of painting; many of the de-finition/methods explicitly establish conditions by which a piece is to be bought, sold, priced, traded, auctioned, transferred, or profited by. de-finition/method #600. “charity begins with others” 2014 (included in this exhibition) mandates that the work can be acquired only if the charge-taker donates three of the five circular canvases to three different charities, each of which is then free to sell the work as it chooses; while the charge-taker, for his part, must display the remaining two paintings beside a photograph of the entire work (all five canvases).
The transactional and market caveats mandated by other de-finition/methods more obviously and directly determine the form of the actualization itself. In de-finition/method #449. “im/mobilier” 2010 two canvases, hung side by side, have their price indexed according to the square meter price of the building in which they are actualized. The surface area of the left canvas remains fixed as a kind of control, while the surface area of the right increases or decreases in relation to changes in the local price of real estate. As real estate prices go up, the painting on the right must be scaled up, as they depreciate, the painting must be downsized. These changes, of course, need not be the product of passive market forces; the charge-taker could renovate his house or let it fall to ruin; he might move to another neighbourhood, city, or country. In all cases, the relationship between the scale of the work and the environment in which it is housed and commodified is established and made explicit. Here, the scope of Rutault’s interest is clearly in view. For while painting exclusively about painting often hazards sterility and solipsism, Rutault’s practice acknowledges and expressly engages the full range of social and conceptual relations complicit with the creation, collection, display and appreciation of an artwork. By identifying painting not just with the application of paint to canvas, or the romantic cult of an expressive, inspired artist, but instead with an entire living, changing, normative social activity, Rutault allows for painting as painting in a climate where disparate arts and technologies make increasingly tenuous claims to its name.