Claude Rutault, French Artist Who Rewrote the Rules of Painting, Dies at 80

Claude Rutault, a French artist whose paintings were made according to rigorous sets of rules, has died at 80. A representative for Perrotin, the Paris-based gallery that represents him, said he died of an illness on Saturday.

“Those who knew him will miss his mischievousness, intelligence, strong personality, generosity, and freedom of spirit, evident in his work,” Perrotin wrote on social media.

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Rutault’s paintings bridged the gap between postwar abstraction and the lofty ideas of the Minimalist and Conceptualist art movements. His works take the form of pared-down abstractions; many of them are monochromes. They are the result of processes done according to strict determinations written out by Rutault in advance.

Because those rules can effectively be followed by anyone, Rutault claimed he never made his works themselves. He also said he did not involve himself in these works’ exhibition or sales, effectively removing himself entirely.

The goal of this unusual mode of working was to disturb traditional notions about painting and how it is viewed. He labeled his sets of instructions “dé-finition/méthodes,” and the space or collector which showed them as the “charge-taker.”

“My proposition is about exiting the pictorial context,” he said in a 2015 interview in Purple. “Getting away from the painting. Going beyond the insignificance of the monochrome. For me, putting up paintings outside is a spectacle.”

Ovular grey painting balanced on the floor against a bright blue wall. Next to it is a circular blue painting that is the same color as the wall.

Claude Rutault, dé-finition/méthode, “autoportrait en pied”, 2011.

Born in 1941 in Trois Moutiers, France, Rutault was part of a generation of French artists who subjected painting, a hallowed medium historically associated with originality, to unusual means of production. Painters like Niele Toroni created repetitive abstractions dictated by precise mathematical systems, while the Supports/Surface movement relied on quotidian materials to question the medium’s most basic elements. However, Rutault often said he felt a greater affinity with the Minimalists working in New York than with these artists.

Rutault’s works were sly in ways that are less obvious than initially meets the eye. One work demanded that its creator paint a canvas the same color as the walls of the gallery in which its set. Another called on its seller to scale the price of the painting up or down in relation to the sums needed to buy local real estate, according to its size.

Paintings by Rutault are difficult to love, due to their hauteur, and this may account for why they have not often been seen outside France. Before Perrotin mounted an exhibition of his work in New York in 2014, he had not had a solo show in New York since 1979, when the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presented his art. Still, early on, he figured in important shows at important French venues such as the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris and the Centre Pompidou, as well as the 1977 and 1982 editions of Documenta in Kassel, Germany.

Although his work was highly conceptual, Rutault did not believe it was without humor.

“You don’t know what my work will become,” he told the artist Allan McCollum in conversation featured in Interview magazine. “You don’t know what color it will be painted. You don’t know where it will be shown. There’s a part of playfulness and game, but it’s also very serious in a way.”


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