On Thursday Evening, October 30, 2014 my wife Terri and I attended the opening reception for Brian Rutenberg's latest exhibition entitled "Saltwater" at the Forum Gallery, 730 5th Ave. in New York City. The show runs through December 6, 2014. We arrived around 5:45 for the 5:30 reception, and a good crowd was already in attendance in the small gallery space.
Upon entering, the colors of the paintings immediately jumped from the pure white walls of the gallery. The first piece on the wall to the right next to the title of the exhibition was a very tall - 83x60 - largely blue work entitled "Spell". This was a great piece to see first, because it was the tallest piece in the show and because of that scale I felt I could step inside of it to experience the space within. The variety of blue colors seemingly expanding around you yet enveloping you simultaneously. Just a note for those that have never experienced Brian's work in person: photographs you see online do not tell the story of the work. The pieces must be experienced for the contrasts in lean and thick surface textures, gloss and matte finishes, brushwork and pure scale.
The next piece that is immediately visible is placed on the end wall of the narrow space which is entitled "Pour" 60x82, and has a dominance of orange. The blue and orange colors of "Spell" and "Pour" work very well together in their placement for the exhibition. As you move through the gallery there are many other great pieces that are eye-catching like "Storm Front" 38x50, "Mint Light" 60x82 (My favorite title of all the pieces), "Longleaf" 55x43 and "Bright" 58x46.
The two largest paintings at 13'-4" each, "Green River" 63x160 and "Ocean Jasper" 48x160, are placed near the end of the L-shaped gallery directly opposite each other on opposing walls . These two are the most stunning because of their scale and associated compositional complexity. Not many painters utilize such a long horizontal scaled canvas (actually two canvases seamed in the middle). Like in most of the pieces the horizon line is compressed at the top of the painting leaving the foreground and middle distance to battle it out for attention. The foreground being thicker, heavier, darker and glossier while the middle distance is thin, slick, matte and vaporous. The paint is used to reinforce the space of the painting.
Two other very interesting pieces have a similar secondary color combination "Green Pond" 58x46 and "Twist" 46x58. What I find interesting is that "Green Pond" has a dark circuitous sort of mark that reminds me of Brian's earlier paintings that used similar marks. I assume these are shapes of tidal marsh rivers that are common to the South Carolina Low Country where he is from. "Green Pond" also has concentric oval marks similar to ripples in water - coincidence, I think not!
There is so much unprofessional looking schlock proliferating high end galleries these days it is refreshing to see very professional, exquisitely crafted pieces. I have said for many years that I believe Brian to be one of the best contemporary artists painting today. If you have a chance, go by the gallery before the show closes. If you don't have a chance, make the time to do it anyway. I promise you will not be disappointed.
P.S.: I can't complete this post without a couple of observations about the gallery space itself. First, the lighting is some of the best I have seen for a gallery of this size. The lighting was even, appropriately colored and bright enough to fully highlight the work. Secondly, the space would greatly benefit from some acoustical treatment. There are wood floors, drywall ceiling and walls and no acoustical treatment at all. Most galleries don't think about acoustic treatment, but a narrow space like this one with all hard surfaces is absolutely deafening midway into the reception. It is a shame because it was difficult to have a coherent conversation with anyone in attendance - including Brian. Some fabric wrapped acoustic panels added to the ceiling surface would be an easy way to assist in mitigating the noise. If done sympathetically with the rest of the space, they would be nearly undetectable by the average gallery visitor.