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An abundance of summer sun streams through Clearing’s windows during the day, so it’s peculiar that the overhead lights are all turned on. Yet without this seemingly gratuitous use of electricity, Anchor of Hope (2011), one of three sculptural works in Kilian Rüthemann’s US solo debut, might go unnoticed. To assemble it, the Swiss artist borrowed two ninety-six-inch-long fluorescent tubes from the gallery’s storage closet and glued them to an identical pair of tubes that were already set in their ceiling-hung sockets, blaring their bright light. Taken as a whole, the scene barely qualifies as art—but what else could it be?
A second piece, Untitled (2011), likewise flirts with nonart status: Rüthemann soaked a pair of Acne jeans in a bucket of water-based bitumen and plastered the viscous, black-stained garment on the wall about eight feet up, bending the legs around a sharp corner. Positioned near two doors, the jeans join a thermostat, intercom, vent, and industrial heater to form an arbitrary yet intriguing composition. Rüthemann’s practice resonates with several decades of Postminimalist investigations into the sculptural object, aesthetic process, the exhibition space, and the outside world. What makes him significant is that, in a pluralistic, absorbent art world, his pesky gestures keep testing received and supposedly resolved notions of art.
Created in situ, Rüthemann’s work comes with a built-in expiration date: the close of the exhibition. To pry apart the bulbs would mean shattering them, and tearing down the already ruined jeans would remove chunks of drywall. The only way for the third sculpture—a tall, hollow construction built from thin sheets of steel welded together, leaning flimsily against a pillar—to exit the gallery is in pieces. Resembling a fragment of a ship’s hull or an airplane’s exterior body, the work, Linger! (2) (2012), won’t fit through the door. Rüthemann, though, doesn’t seem bothered by such destruction—he probably shrugs his shoulders, laughs, and starts thinking about his next exhibition.