‘We are moving towards immaterial art, yet we only approach it in small steps.’ - Reiner Ruthenbeck, 2006

This winter, the Serpentine Gallery presents the first major survey in a British public institution by the conceptual artist, and one of Germany’s leading post-war sculptors, Reiner Ruthenbeck (born 1937, Germany).

Ruthenbeck is an orchestrator of geometric form, celebrated for his ability to transform space using conventional materials, such as crumpled paper or swathes of fabric. Moving beyond Arte Povera or Minimalism, Ruthenbeck’s installations and sculptures seek to uncover the harmony found in so-called ordinary shapes and objects and by doing so, his works subvert the familiar, using objects and simple materials to explore architecture, perception, and, in later works, sound.

After initially training as a photographer and documenting performance art in the early 1960s, Reiner Ruthenbeck studied sculpture for six years at Düsseldorf Academy of Art under influential artist Joseph Beuys. Blinky Palermo (1943-1977), Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) and Gerhard Richter (1932-) were among his contemporaries. The strength of the Academy and the presence of the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Düsseldorf drew artists from all over the world, establishing it as a vibrant and international centre for conceptual art. Ruthenbeck was included in Harald Szeemann’s 1969 seminal exhibition When Attitudes Become Form.

Representing key works in the artist’s career, the exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery presents his Möbel series of sculptures; light installations, including Zwielicht / Entre chien et loup (1977/1992), and a recently produced series of photographs. Also presented are the iconic Aschehaufen series, produced between 1968 and 1972, which consists of piles and cones made of ash, slag or paper. Later, he would show utilitarian objects, such as chairs and tables, stripped of their function thus exaggerating the pure shape of the object. The installations Umgekippe Möbel (1971/1993), the overturned furniture, and Koffer (1968), a suitcase accompanied by a soundtrack from Danish artist and composer Henning Christiansen, are both included in the exhibition.

Continuing with the artist’s interest in polarities, the works Eckenraute 200 (1985) and Kleines schräges Quadrat auf Aluminiumstreifen (1991), both comprising black squares painted onto a white wooden panel or sticks that disappear in the spaces, punctuate the space and exemplify the artist’s spatial concern. On the occasion of the exhibition, Ruthenbeck donates to the Serpentine an original Limited Edition, Taschenspiegel, which he produced 1970.

This exhibition is part of the Serpentine Winter Programme, which includes an exhibition by Argentinian-born artist Julio Le Parc that runs concurrently at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery.