Claude Rutault, Galerie Perrotin, New York

Incorporating 16 “de-finition/methods”, as well as four new pieces, this collection of works by Claude Rutault is the artist’s first solo exhibition in America following four decades of prominent and influential practice in France. Rutault’s work, beginning with a 1974 show staged at the office of a Parisian psychoanalyst, has consistently approached painting as a social practice embedded in the living relationships between artwork, artist, gallery, collector, museum and auction house.

Claude Rutault describes himself as a painter, and although the viewer is presented with works on canvas, the artist does not paint his pieces himself and neither is he in the business of overseeing their production. Instead Rutault’s practice is to write and issue a set of rules, caveats, instructions and procedures entitled “de-finition/methods,” according to which a gallery, collector, or institution (known as the “charge-taker”) agrees to “actualize” a given work.

The first of these de-finition/methods was created in 1973 and led to hundreds of further works, produced under guidelines such as “a stretched canvas painted the same color as the wall on which it’s hung. All commercially available formats can be used, be they rectangular, square, round or oval.”

The benefit of these fairly open-ended prescriptions is that the finished piece is a site-specific, unpredictable work and mutually contingent with the conditions and environment in which it is to be actualized. The parameters, shape, colour and placement of the painting are constrained only by the ingenuity of its charge-taker – if the charge-taker wishes to change the colour of his painting for example, he must change the colour of the wall as well. If he wishes to relocate the work, wall, painting, or both must be repainted according to the de-finition/method.

Unforeseen varieties therefore ensue, and report of their changing characteristics must be filed with Rutault – to his surprise, amusement, satisfaction, or even displeasure. The artist lives apart from his paintings, allowing them to transform independent of his own preferences. At this juncture, Rutault’s role can be seen as that of a parent watching his adult child take charge of their own lives and either sink or swim.

The 600 de-finition/methods vary in complexity and range in topologies of painting. All variations on a theme, their directions can even establish conditions by which a piece is to be bought, sold or priced. For example, de-finition/method #449. “im/mobilier” 2010, sees two canvases with their price indexed according to the square meter price of the building in which they are actualized. The size of the left canvas remains fixed, while the right increases or decreases in relation to changes in the price of real estate. Therefore as prices go up, the painting on the right grows.

Rutault’s practice may seem to be exclusively about painting, however his works live in accordance with social and economic change rather than simply be based upon artistic ego and the application of paint to canvas.

Claude Rutault, until 3 January, Galerie Perrotin, 909 Madison Avenue & 73rd Street Upper East Side, NY 10021 New York.

1. Claude Rutault, at Galerie Perrotin New York. Courtesy of the gallery and the artist.