Kathy Ruttenberg on Broadway’s Upcoming Public Fantasy: in dreams awake

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Kathy Ruttenberg, In Sync, 2018. 96” high x 52” diameter. Broadway Ave and 72ND St.
Image Courtesy of Fionn Reilly

From April 27TH through February 2019, after a tremendous amount of artistic labor and industry, a display of six large-scale sculptures will linger, like a daydream, along the pedestrian great green way of Manhattan’s Broadway—between 64TH and 157TH St. Kathy Ruttenberg on Broadway: in dreams awake is a commissioned project by the Broadway Mall Association; organized in coordination with NYC Parks, who for over 50 years has brought contemporary public artworks to the city’s parks, establishing New York City as one of the world’s largest open-air galleries.

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Kathy Ruttenberg, All the World’s a Stage, 2018. 189.5” high x 52” diameter. Broadway Ave and 64TH St. Image Courtesy of Fionn Reilly

Kathy Ruttenberg is materializing the lifelong dream of many NYC artists, as she is on the verge of displaying and bringing to life her own anthropomorphic and wondrous art work at one of the most archaic thoroughfares on the island of Manhattan. The artist materializes a most necessary artistic female unconscious for her debuting outdoor installation; entitled in dreams awake after Henry D. Thoreau’s quote: “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” This title is physically and psychologically fitting, as her perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards the arts often sympathize with a dream-like-reality.

Empowering her feminine inspirations and natural explorations, these floral, animalistic mise-en-scéne sculptural mindscapes, full of vibrant folk echos and natural poetry, will conspicuously be palpable and fictionable, almost thought real, the moment they arise fourteen feet tall on Broadway. Before stepping into work or walking down the subway; perhaps traveling from school or your home; or wandering in front of your favorite park, these sculptures may rise up to meet you, offering some sort of optimism, as their fantastical and extraordinary character may lift the veil of reality to the everyday passerby; allowing the witnesses to childishly enter the sculptures without any political or social misconceptions, freeing themselves to the self contemplation of fantastical fables and figures coexisting in once reality. As Ruttenberg told me, during a visit at her studio, “They are pieces that children can go right into, but they have many layers.” Layers which the eyewitness might have to subjectively peel away and inspiringly explore throughout the year’s installation.

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Kathy Ruttenberg, Topsy Turvy, 2018. 140.5” high x 52” diameter. Broadway Ave and 116TH St. Image Courtesy of Fionn Reilly

This fairy-tale vernacular, this somatic female driven narrative—which may “urge us to consider gender rhetoric and feminism in the context of corporeal consciousness and pure imagination”[1]—, is currently being assembled at its nest in Mt. Tremper, soon to be transported to a nearby resting entrepôt at the Bronx before ultimately being installed on Broadway avenue. For these installations, she explored new mediums, ludically fusing sculptural materials including glass mosaic, transparent cast resin, acrylic, patinated bronze, glazed clay, concrete and a meticulous configuration of LED lights that enlighten the sculptural dream—for the never sleeping Big Apple dreamers—after dusk.

Appraised by many art critics, curators and artists, Kathy Ruttenberg is an internationally renowned sculptor—born in Chicago, but raised in New York—who has built a prolific career spanning more than four decades. Ruttenberg began making art when she was very young, as her mother, Janet Ruttenberg, a Manhattan based artist, directed her desire and passion towards the exploration of the arts. Ruttenberg has had multiple solo exhibitions at Stux Gallery in New York and she has exhibited installations at the Biennale Internationale de Vallauris, the American Museum of Ceramic Art, the Roger Williams Botanical Center, the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche and many other eminent venues which have given her honorable mention and have invited her as a guest of honor exhibitor.

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Kathy Ruttenberg, Fish Bowl, 2018. 101” high x 110” long x 96” wide. Broadway Ave and 157TH St. Image Courtesy of Fionn Reilly

In 1992—after receiving her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York and pursuing advanced studies in Morocco and at the graduate program of the New York University in Venice—Kathy Ruttenberg’s natural panorama shifted when she migrated toward the Catskill mountains to a more colorful country. She moved to the forested and ever free-spirited bucolic landscape of Upstate New York to bloom and to find a complete sense of her own rebirth. There, her conception of self metamorphosed as the land, flora and fauna wished to do. While settling in, Ruttenberg realized she had only begun a long-lasting relationship with the surrounding environment and its creatures, as well as with clay: the medium of her acclaimed fantastical, anthropomorphic sculptures.

Clay, an earthbound material, is a malleable and fastidiously sensitive medium that allows artists to clearly express the emotional indentations that their bare hands impress onto the the clay’s texture and color. As Anindita Dutta, Indian-born visual and clay based artist, stated in an interview with Zofeen Maqsood, Hindustan Times journalist, “Just like in life, no two scars created on clay are alike.” Ruttenberg’s environmental and feminine concerns mold into the soft material that is clay. Every emotional scar is impressed, embedded deeply in clay and the artist’s sculptural ideas; her symbolic narrative is immobilized in the firing of the clay, only to be immortalized, ultimately, in its glazing. The sculptures are allegorically charged mythological and natural figures that move and coexist inside Ruttenberg’s own constructed fantastical and personal narrative. By engaging in a conversation with these anthropomorphic characters and concepts—as in her watercolor drawings, crucial prolepsis to her sculptures—she exposes the urgent demands of her own and other’s persona, as well as the freedoms that an imaginary world can invoke onto society.

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Kathy Ruttenberg, In Sync, 2018. 96” high x 52” diameter. Broadway Ave and 72ND St. Image Courtesy of Fionn Reilly

Soon enough, Ruttenberg will raise her jaw-dropping fairy-tale figures and self-portraits on the public landscapes of Broadway, figure’s some critics describe as a “new kind of story-telling impresario.” Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson, also an acquaintance of Kathy Ruttenberg, considers her artwork as a matter of contemplation and deserved eminence, as not many artist’s base their artwork on an old traditional medium like clay, prolifically creating symbologically condensed and aesthetically marvelous ouvré with an authentic chimeric aspect and joyful atmosphere.

Ruttenberg educates through her work the everyday spectator on the current environmental emergency, as well as on the lack of female somatic empowerment in society. Her sculptures stand for that intention: to precipitate an aesthetically optimistic spirit onto its witnesses and to engender an immensely positive appreciation for the female unconscious and the fantasy of the natural world. Almost an outwardly overt contrast with the urban city stretch and man’s removed relationship to nature. As she said in an interview, “I find myself using anthropomorphic fables to return nature’s creatures to our human consciousness.”, or in this case, across many streets of the main Broadway of New York City.

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Kathy Ruttenberg, Ms. Mighty Mouse, 2018 . 120” high x 48” wide x 32” diameter. Broadway Ave and 79TH St. Image Courtesy of Fionn Reilly

Ruttenberg lives with more than 50 farm animals at her farmstead/house/art studio. Her empathy and generosity doesn’t halt with animals, but extends to environmental conservation. She has donated her designs, products and artworks to benefit Green Chimneys (a Brewster-based nonprofit that uses animals to help special-needs children), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the Lemur Conservation Foundation and the Woodstock Land Conservancy.

Michele Lorusso is a writer and photographer based in New York City.

References:
[1] WSI Administration, “Kathy Ruttenberg, Nature of the Beast”, 2014. Wall Street International Magazine.

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