Claude Rutault

12 Sep - 09 Nov 2013

actualités de la peinture
12 September - 9 November 2013

“my paintings have a short life, but they have several lives”
Claude Rutault

Claude Rutault’s work uses a set of rules that was established in 1973 in definition/method 1: ‘A canvas braced on a stretcher, painted the same colour as the wall on which it is hung. All commercially available formats can be used, whether rectangular, square, round or oval.’ The identity of the canvas colour with the wall has led to development of a corpus of approximately 580 de-finition/methods. Rutault’s texts form the instructions for an evolving work that is ‘actualized’ by its ‘charge-taker’ (the collector or museum, for example).
Since 1995, in keeping with the logic of abandoning the finished object, Claude Rutault has repainted all the paintings he did before those painted the same colour as the wall. He has added breadth to his statement by using the canvases beyond the strict relationship of wall to canvas. Canvases are stacked, placed on the floor or leant up against the walls.
The exhibition “actualités de la peinture” brings together some twenty artworks in three sets evoking the stages of a work’s life, from the workshop to the gallery . The composition of Vermeer’s “L’Atelier”, also known as “L’Art de la peinture”, is suggested through the vocabulary of ‘de-finition/methods’.
The second offering hinges on Nicolas Poussin’s “Saisons”. Two series of original engravings of the four pictures are used. For the first of these the engravings are painted the same colour as the wall (as was the case at the Centre de Vassivière and then at the Musée de Nancy). For the second series, each engraving is placed on a stack of canvases with a different coloured glass placed on each pile. The last room contains a version of Watteau’s “L’Enseigne de Gersaint”. Nicolas Watteau conceived this monumental work in 1720 as a shop sign for the gallerist Gersaint. In this exhibition, Claude Rutault surrounds the engraving with a dense hanging of a dozen autonomous ‘de-finition/methods’. This painting is intensified by giving a contemporary feel to Watteau’s original statement.
xcerpts from the discussion between Claude Rutault and Hans Ulrich Obrist, in the catalogue published by Galerie Perrotin and Damiani.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: I was wondering who your influences were at the time? When you did this experiment in 1973, did you have references?
claude rutault: the references came later. i was a provincial guy, most of what i knew about painting came from journals. there’s no point kidding myself: i was somewhat behind in relation to my parisian colleagues... i had ellsworth kelly’s albums, several skira albums. i felt very distant from american painting, even though it had made a great impression on me. it was the hours i spent working on my painting in the garden of rue clavel that prompted me to study the work of certain artists. work like frank stella’s, the series of black stripes, the equivalents of carl andre, ad reinhardt... but it was the experiments of people such as kazimir malevich that fascinated me most, the black quadrilateral, but just as equally the texts; exander rodchenko, the three monochromes in 1921, red, yellow, blue... i was interested in people who made radical gestures at one point, who pushed things to the edge. rodchenko and his three monochromes; he stopped in 1921 and started again in 1927 with paintings i consider catastrophic! malevich had pretty much the same path. and pollock, with his return to figures. these paths gave me food for thought. i told myself to be careful not to fall into this renouncement, maybe. once i finished the “hopscotches”, i did nothing but roll out canvases the same color as the wall, unravel the threads of my initial choices.
At what point did the idea of instructions appear, around 1973?
it came almost immediately, by the actual definition of the process of updating each work. i think it led me quite naturally in 1995 to repainting all my paintings dated before 1973. a big job.
It also means there that whoever conducts it has a responsibility.
obviously; that’s why i don’t talk about collectors any more but charge-takers, the people who take charge of the work. for me the charge-taker is someone who takes part in the painting. without a charge-taker, my painting remains a text. my goal is to have a painting actualized in order to gauge what is still possible in painting. you can compare it to a musical score, on the condition that it isn’t closed, a participation that goes beyond mere differences in interpretation.
And there’s even a chance that it will survive longer than any other painting...that’s the idea of a never-ending painting. 300 years from now, you’ll be able to repaint a canvas the same color as the wall, and it will still be the original.
i went for the medium that is most commonly used these day, which is still the canvas stretched on stretchers... the novelty is elsewhere. people may say that painting is dead, but when you go to museums, art fairs, and galleries you still see a lot of paintings. it’s not all you see, but there are still a lot of paintings. and if you look at the works that cost the most, they’re usually paintings.
So back to the notion of the history of the temporality of the work. Because time, you say, “is a big word, but there are two distinct yet interdependent ways to envisage duration in my painting. First, actualizing, i.e., when a charge-taker carries out the text of the de-finition/method, he or she determines the place, the form, the format, the color, and the arrangement according to the text, which means they get a lot of freedom. (...) Two actualizations of the same de-finition/method executed by two different people in two different places at the same time can appear very different. This freedom appeals to charge-takers because they know that any actualization is limited in duration. If they want to modify their actualizations, they can do so at any time. (...) The second way to envisage the life of a de-finition/method is to underscore the unlimited quality of actualizations. The work’s life is limitless.”* Could you tell us about these two temporalities?
the text of the de-finition/method is a set of instructions to execute a painting.
its particularity is that it’s incomplete. the person who actualizes the work has choices to make: always the color and generally the dimensions, the number of canvases, and the hanging. this is how the text exists. it is designed to keep me at a distance from the work. this is risky painting. i will have surprises, good or bad, but the work’s evolution, survival, and actuality come at this price. the way i see it, thanks to the text, the work is not subjected to time; time drives the work. the work will exist in the long term. the painting is always yet to come, the actualization is just a moment - often very brief. the painting continues from one actualization to the next, one intermission to the next. the totality of the work exists at every moment. as soon as one actualization is shown, we wait for the next. because we know that just as time condemns it, it also means it can come back. there isn’t one work left from the first ten years that is still in its original state, they have been repainted or exist in other formats. the charge-taker will have changed the format, the number of canvases, the hanging and, of course, the color. as a result, i have never seen over half of my paintings. this distance, which comes from the nature of the text and alters my relationship to my own work, appeals to me.

* Excerpt of the discussion with Marie-Hélène Breuil published in “claude rutault”, published by Flammarion, Paris. 2010

A solo show by Claude Rutault “des histoires sans fin” will be organized at MAMCO in Geneva, from 15 October 2013 to 12 January 2014.
Claude Rutault will participate in the exhibition “Happy Birthday Galerie Perrotin / 25 years” , from 11 October to 12 January 2014 organized at lille3000, at Tripostal.
Claude Rutault will be featured in the group show “théâtre du monde” at Maison Rouge in Paris from 19 October 2013 to 12 January 2014.
He participates in the group show “Private Choice” organized by Nadia Candet, from 20 october to 28 October 2013, near Place Victor Hugo, Paris 16e. (By invitation only, for more information :
Galerie Perrotin and Damiani are publishing a monograph of Claude Rutault including a discussion between Calude Rutault and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Tags: Carl Andre, Ellsworth Kelly, Kazimir Malevich, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ad Reinhardt, Claude Rutault, Frank Stella