Fri 21 Apr 2023 to Sat 20 May 2023
Artist: Claude Rutault
Perrotin presents an exhibition at 2bis Avenue Matignon dedicated to claude rutault, who passed away in 2022. The exhibition features six de-finitions/methods (dm) actualized according to the artist’s instructions, including the first and last work from his book de-finitions/methods 1973-2016.
The window at the gallery entrance features à vendre toiles a peindre, a humorous and caustic reflection on the commercial codes of the art world, and an allusion to the exhibition title which derives from a joke in the artist’s family: ici mieux qu’en face (“better here than over there”). To claude rutault, this expression seemed the perfect argument for selling all kinds of objects.
Inside the gallery, a diptych painted the color of the wall (dm 1 peinture à l’unité, 2013) spells out the artist’s vocabulary, further developed in the horizontal and vertical alignments of the canvases dépendance et indépendance limite 3 (1974). A column made of piles of canvases -nicolas ledoux memoire (2012) and a humorous evocation of a paso-doble dance duet (1995) complete the gallery space.
Finally, the triangular painting format limite 4 (1974), to be actualized by 3 people, brings the social implications of Rutault’s work to the fore; they are pushed to the extreme with AMZ (2016), a mobile world-work with more than 100 participants, evolving according to the time and location of the paintings, represented here by a rectangular painting outlining an absence.
Four prestigious museums are currently paying the artist an exceptional homage. The Musée d’Orsay is showing la porte de la peinture, a work inspired by Auguste Rodin’s La Porte de l’Enfer, while the Musée du Louvre is exhibiting a work by Rutault based on a Fayum painting. The National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, is displaying ready to be made, actualized with Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack. The Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, finally, is taking part in this homage by adding a work from their collection to the permanent exhibition.
“If there is a biography, it is not mine. It is that of the charge-takers, since the writing of the painting allows me to withdraw from the scene.” claude rutault, la peinture fait des vagues, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest, 2007
In 1973 in Paris, claude rutault painted his kitchen.
He placed two mounted canvases on the floor, one of which he painted with a roller, before hanging it on the wall. The canvas and the wall now had the same color: a breakthrough. From this act, whose simplicity is almost tautological, claude rutault would create a significant body of work that despite being written as much as painted (by him and others) would revolutionize the history and practice of painting.
This gesture gave rise to a set of written instructions which he called – with the efficiency and radical economy of a founding act – de-finitions / methods (or d/m), specifying the method for creating and positioning a work: painted, repainted and de-painted canvases, piles of canvases, dialogues with other works (most often from the history of art), spatial arrangements, a work’s appearance, disappearance, etc. The first d/m (subtitled toile à l’unité) begins thus: “a canvas stretched on a frame and painted the same color as the wall on which it hangs”. Until his death in May 2022, he would continually expand, develop, and elaborate this initial statement – not without humor – ultimately creating 657 more.
The exhibition presents an exhaustive overview of this body of work – from the first d/m (toile à l’unité) to the last (AMZ) – allowing us to grasp it in all its dimensions.
Considering that his raw material was the writing of instructions, claude rutault must be seen not only as a painter but as a writer. He wrote several books that sometimes resemble fiction and was close to the writers associated with the Nouveau roman and the generation of authors who deconstructed poetic form in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s using narrative continuum and continuous pagination across several works, unusual punctuation and capitalization, serial writing, and playful page layouts. Although claude rutault frequently claimed “I am a painter” – mainly to escape the label of conceptual artist and inscribe his work in a certain painterly tradition –, he is in fact more of a formalist author, his various books interrogating the possibilities and meaning of painting, sculpture, and color. He also sought to engage in a dialogue with other artists, irrespective of period and technique, from the Fayum mummy portraitists to Poussin, Dürer, Picasso, Rodin, and Eugène Leroy.
By exhibiting what seems like nothing more than a set of painted or unpainted canvases, colored sheets of paper, piles of canvases of varying heights placed opposite one another, and works from the history of art, claude rutault belongs to a long tradition of painting that questions the very status of representation – it would, in fact, be illuminating to read his work from a phenomenological perspective.
The radicality of the instructions and issues presented by claude rutault might seem austere. Yet on closer look, his work is also joyful and funny. But its defining characteristic, resulting from its unique method and endless adaptability, from its writing to its creation, is freedom.
Once written down, the de-finitions / methods can be actualized at any time, sometimes several times and within a variable timeframe, allowing several people (claude rutault himself or so-called “charge-takers” like collectors, museum staff, and other artists) to use or even develop the instructions. Thus, some works remain on the wall or the floor where they first appeared for a long time, only to disappear and reappear in the same place or elsewhere; unless their development is suspended due to external circumstances, such as the death of the collector or the artist, or as a result of the latter’s clever calculation.
Most of the de-finitions/methods play with time: the instructions include schedules of varying specificity. But as they are updated or re-actualized by charge-takers they also form part of a continuum. claude rutault’s work brings about a conceptual and artistic revolution because it is in constant motion: it can be painted, repainted, repositioned, and reconditioned. Always active, always alive, always concurrent with the moment of its actualization, it occurs in the present tense – the present progressive. Unlike a painting or sculpture in a museum or the home of an art lover, Rutault’s art evolves: making it, remaking it, and repainting it is the very condition of its integrity. It does not belong to the category of finished objects: once a de-finition/method is realized, it rarely stays the same and the agent of change is not necessarily the same at each stage of its development. In the end, the main question is: who, following the artist’s death, is at work in claude rutault’s oeuvre?
As Rutault writes, it is “a painting to live” which through its endlessly renewable gesture of generosity gives those who seize it great responsibility, triggering inexhaustible discussions on the status and the presence of the work: what is the role of the charge-taker, the painter, the one who paints the canvas and the wall? In short, Rutault blurs the lines of social interaction: artist, patron, collector, the work requires that each one, in turn, occupies the place of the other. The traditional use value of the work of art is made redundant.
Presenting the first and the last de-finitions/methods, the exhibition shows how Rutault constantly increased the scope of the artistic act as well as the responsibility of those who take charge of the work. Since 1973, d/m 1 has been reworked twice more by its author, from Toile à l’unité to Tableau à l’unité to peinture à l’unité, showing that nothing is fixed, that the work continues to evolve. It is therefore no surprise that AMZ, the last d/m to be published, offers the most freedom and the most responsibility. claude rutault writes: “For a long time now, the texts have contained the right to make proposals, as well as a right to correction and the possibility to repent. ”AMZ must now be seen as a key de-finition/method as it opens up an unlimited field of possibilities, widening the field of action, always in motion. Thus, apart from the personal anec- dote that gives the exhibition its title, the formula “Better here than over there” is also a way to understand claude rutault’s work: a round trip that forces you to come back to the point of departure, but having seen what was in front of you, providing a point of view of the place where you started. A pendular movement in space and time. Life as a continual re-actualization, always evolving, never fixed.
“ so as not to come to an end,
my painting does not stop with me,
quite the opposite, it begins the moment I leave, my goal is to provide a way of painting that continues beyond myself as well as beyond my proposals, some will have to be revisited when the conditions change, unless they no longer mean anything, the paintings have to evolve, continue to be corrected without delay, adapt to remain alive, to be discovered, covered, begun again, pursued, continued. a painting full of risks (dé-finitions/méthodes 1973 – 2016, Mamco éditions, p. 2231.) ”