The exhibition, which includes ceramic sculptures and watercolor drawings, shows the conceptual pathways to Ruttenberg’s public art project In Dreams Awake, commissioned by the Broadway Mall Association of six monumental outdoor sculptures on view until March 2019 from West 64th through West 157th Streets in Manhattan.
The Knockturnal had the opportunity to chat with Ruttenberg at the unveiling of her new exhibition on inspiration for her art, and the relationship between her stationary sculptures and the bustling New York landscape.
You may have passed Ruttenberg’s In Dreams Awake sculptures on your walks throughout the city, among them popular crowd favorites like Snail’s Pace, Ms. Mighty Mouse, and the Fish Bowl. A fantastical mix of human, nature, and plant forms, her work derives not from traditional or well-known folklore, but rather Ruttenberg’s own life experiences and periods of transformation both as an individual and an artist. A Chicago native who relocated to the Hudson Valley in the 1990s, Ruttenberg shows the connection between changing life and landscape with her sculptures.
Ms. Mighty Mouse, a popular sculpture from Ruttenberg’s In Dreams Awake installment,
on 157th Street along Broadway in New York City
“I live upstate and it’s a magical experience every day. I feel like I just arrived there and started becoming where I’m living. When I first moved there, I was the rabbit lady, and now I feel very established there, so now I’m the tree lady. It’s autobiographical.”
In the personification of nature and the melding of woman and woodland creature, you see the exhibit as both personal and self-reflective, offering new insight into Ruttenberg’s world of fantasy. With an artistic career spanning more than three decades across media, painting, sculpture, animation, photography and books, Private Myths / Public Dreams, is Ruttenberg’s evolving thoughts and visions made manifest and brought into a public space through In Dreams Awake.
The Fish Bowl, on display at Private Myths / Public Dreams,
on display at New York City’s Francis M. Naumann Fine Art gallery.
“I used to live in New York, but not living now in New York, I feel like it’s amazing that I really put my finger on the pulse,” said Ruttenberg on how the location of her sculptures has worked to influence and elevate the quality of her work. “I feel like people really responded. I felt like 157th street, that sculpture, it’s amazing how it talked to the community. The snail gets a lot of attention. I went to each site, and I really developed the piece for each site.
I don’t start with a watercolor. I start with a visualization of the sculpture, and as I’m working on the sculpture, I do a lot of watercolors that are part of the process, ad I keep a visual diary,” said Ruttenberg, one that she looks at often.
“I have books and books of watercolors. It’s like my diary, and when I look through them, I go ‘Oh, my god,’ And I feel like this is just a small step. I have so much more that I want to do. I feel like the work is growing, and just to have this chance to do the Broadway Mall, I felt like it matured my vision so quickly.”
On display and accessible to the public along Broadway, the sculptures become not just visual but also interactive as viewers move throughout the space and around each piece to admire their intricacies and detail. The natural world and our relationship to is a primary focus in Ruttenberg’s narratives, in which species merge and figures serve as mythic landscapes. Private Myths / Public Dreams shows the tensions of the natural world and human relationships from a distinctly feminine perspective.
Ruttenberg also shared the process by which she chose each location along the Broadway route, and how the history of each site informed the creation of each of the six sculptures. All The World’s A Stage which was located on 64th Street’s Dante Park through November 2018, made of cast silicon bronze, resin, glass mosaic, cast concrete, and LED lighting, was one such piece she discussed.
“I went to all the sites, and that site has such a historical profundity, and the power of the theater, and the park. It’s just such a nice contrast. That little teeny park is kind of wild, isn’t it? It’s just so small, and it’s the center of so much at the same time.”
These contrasts of materials, media, and locations transforms not only the viewer’s relationship to each piece, but that of the sculptor as well.
Preliminary sketches and watercolor work for All The World’s A Stage,
Ruttenberg’s sculpture which was on display on 64th Street in Manhattan’s Dante Park.
“It’s so funny, because it changes every time I do the tour, at one point I don’t like the mouse, and then it was my favorite one. Initially, the snail was my favorite. It was like a piece of jewelry when it came together, the contrast of the media.”
Snails Pace by Kathy Ruttenberg, on display on 96th Street in Manhattan.
Following the public project, which is on view until March 2019, Ruttenberg who is also a jeweler plans to do just that–make her initial favorite, Snail’s Pace, into a smaller, wearable piece. In addition to the titles of sculptor, painter, and jeweler, Ruttenberg also hones in on the title of author within her repertoire, as the gallery preview also celebrates the release of her book, In Dreams Awake: Kathy Ruttenberg on Broadway.