What better place to host a retrospective of Nelly Rudin’s constructivist-concretist oeuvre than at Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich? It was the altar of the Zurich Concretists Max Bill, Verena Loewensberg, Richard Paul Lohse and Camille Graeser. After an exhibition of her work in 2000, the museum paid a second homage to Rudin with ‘Open Space’ – a title that reflects the accessibility of Rudin’s work and her consistent inclusion of viewers.
The installation Ohne Titel (Winkelobjekt) (Untitled, Angle Object, 2011) was conceived especially for this show, as an addition to
the series ‘Winkelobjekt’ (1985–ongoing). Rudin arranged four waist-high objects – which look like L’s from above and joined triangles from the side – in a cross formation. The objects mark out an intermediate space, their edges rising or descending depending on one’s perspective. One side of each object is whitewashed while the other is painted in either red, yellow, blue or green. Walking through and around the work produced different colour combinations.
The form of the cross appeared in older additions to the ‘Winkelobjekt’ series, like no. 13 and no. 13a (both 1991), which feature rows of miniature angled-crosses, with one row arranged horizontally and the other, vertically. These crosses seemed to have been ‘embroidered’ onto the white walls: A loose dialogue emerged between the ensembles on the walls and those on the floor, once again dependent on each viewer’s perspective.
The generous treatment of space in the show – which was conceived as a kind of parcours – proved captivating. The works were given room to spread themselves out where necessary or compressed into compact installations – all presented in thematic groups rather than chronologically. Early on, Rudin flouted the sort of strict systematic order sometimes criticized in the work of her mentor Bill. She came to art comparatively late, in 1964, after having studied design and worked as a graphic designer. But by then, the 1960 exhibition ‘Concrete Art: Fifty Years of Development’
put together by Bill had already created a benchmark. Unlike Loewensberg, Rudin chose not to go down the path of an organic-surrealist formal vocabulary and its new pictorial realities. Instead, her work always verges on a form of visual communication which is influenced by the psychology of perception and which employs three-dimensional lines and planes in space.
From the mid-1960s onwards, Rudin brought Concrete Art to other styles, such as Minimal Art, by making serial objects with industrial assemblages. This was evident in the recent works in this exhibition: Winkelobjekt no. 3a (Angle Object no. 3a, 2011) for instance, or Aluminiumobjekt no. 20 (Aluminium Object no. 20, 2000) and Aluminiumobjekt no. 11 (Aluminium Object no. 11, 1981/2010). The spatial projections of her picture and frame works – Bildobjekt no. 542 (Picture Object no. 542, 1984/2000) and Bildobjekt no. 447 (Picture Object no. 447, 1993) – have often led contemporary critics to make comparisons with the works of Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella and representatives of American Hard Edge and Colour Field Painting. Although such comparisons are valid, the element of viewer participation in Rudin’s work moves it beyond such art historical categorizations, to become relevant and accessible to a broader public. ‘Participation’ – often degraded to a platitude – was not a bad thing here since the works only ‘come into their own’, as Rudin puts it, through the viewers shifting perspectives. Those who took on the open, discursive space of this retrospective will have been struck by the relevance of Rudin’s tenacious modernity.
Translated by Jonathan Blower