For more than a dozen years, New Yorker Janet Ruttenberg (b. 1931) has been making enormous, bold, often fantastical, chromatically intense paintings and watercolor studies of Central Park, the great grassy piazza of New York City, and of its eclectic visitors. Nine works on paper and eight paintings, two with projected video, are in the exhibition. These large-scale works - most measuring 15 feet in width - are supplemented by a selection of preparatory photographs and drawings, depicting the park in the height of its spring, summer, and fall glory. Ruttenberg concentrates on three places:
• Most frequently depicted is Sheep Meadow, painted from a position under a grand American Elm tree near Mineral Springs Pavilion, looking south across the 15-acre expanse of lawn packed with people, toward the skyline of Central Park South.
• Ruttenberg also paints and creates video at Literary Walk around the statue of Shakespeare, with its devoted cadre of summer-evening tango dancers. The projected video on the paintings makes the dance come alive with movement and music, sung by Oscar de la Renta.
• A third group of works incorporates Augustus Saint-Gaudens's equestrian statue of General Sherman, which stands in the north half of Grand Army Plaza, separated from the park's southeast entrance by a small street, but officially part of the park. In these pieces she focuses on the glorious white-blooming 'Bradford' Callery Pear trees that surrounded the gilded statue before a freak storm felled them in October 2011.
Ruttenberg's paintings are pure New York. At first glance, the viewer is attracted by the great beauty and variety of the Central Park landscape - the lush green carpet of Sheep Meadow, the downy pear trees in Grand Army Plaza, or the imposing statue of Shakespeare at the beginning of the Mall. On close inspection, however, the works reveal themselves to be filled with human details that transport them beyond the level of simple landscape. For Ruttenberg, the park is a backdrop for her real preoccupation: figures. It is the blend - the variety - that inspires her. Of her work in the park she says, "that's really the message...the mix of the nationalities of the world."
The exhibition is designed by Wendy Evans Joseph of Cooper Joseph Studio and curated by Andrea Henderson Fahnestock.