Alex Ruthner: Unreliable Imitation of Life

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Alex Ruthner ('Addicted', 2014)
1/3
'Addicted', 2014

© the artist/courtesy Ibid

Alex Ruthner ('Inferninho', 2014)
2/3
'Inferninho', 2014

© the artist/courtesy Ibid

Alex Ruthner ('The reception of the present against the background of history', 2014)
3/3
'The reception of the present against the background of history', 2014

© the artist/courtesy Ibid

People always go on about painting being dead. Well if that’s the case, Vienna-based artist Alex Ruthner offers a Frankenstein-like reanimation by stitching together past periods and styles. Each large, squarish work is mostly abstract, filled with greyish splashes of paint and fuzzy smudges of colour. Except that you also find, floating amid the expressive mark-making, some figurative element: an image, usually within a small rectangle, either quoting popular culture (Mickey Mouse, for example) or else referring to the art of the past. And sometimes, off to the side of the canvas, there’s an additional component in the form of bold, regular stripes – abstraction again, then, but from a different, more geometric tradition.

So far, so playfully postmodern. What complicates the issue, though, is the fact that you can also read Ruthner’s pictures as a kind of literal depiction – of a postcard or photo affixed to a dirty wall, for example, with what might be some sort of slatted blind covering an adjacent area. In other words, the paintings are both a visual mishmash while at the same time an experiment in realism – the point being, perhaps, that it’s precisely such sorts of stylistic impurity and slippages between different registers that nowadays characterise our experience of life. Tricksy, intelligent stuff.


Gabriel Coxhead

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