Museum of the City of New York This Week Unveils 1st Exhibition of Central Park Paintings by NYC Artist Janet Ruttenberg

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Enormous, bold, often fantastical, chromatically intense paintings and watercolor studies of Central Park exhibited at City Museum.

Roller Blades (Photo Credit: Antoine Bootz)

Legions of park-goers may see Ruttenberg painting in her usual spot at the top of the Meadow. Like many New York fixtures, she is hidden in plain sight, and she embraces the anonymity.

Celebrating Central Park and those who gather within its green borders, Picturing Central Park: Paintings by Janet Ruttenberg will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York from September 13, 2013 to January 5, 2014.

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.

About Janet Ruttenberg
Born Janet Lee Kadesky in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1931, Ruttenberg began painting and drawing as a child. Early encouragement by schoolteachers and an uncle who was a painter set her at a young age on the path to become an artist. She took summer courses at the Art Institute of Chicago, later studied printmaking with Argentinean master Mauricio Lasansky at the University of Iowa, and then continued her studies when moving to Chicago in 1951. Ruttenberg has chosen never to show or sell her works, and this is her first museum exhibition. She has been steadily producing pieces in paint, paper, and stainless steel for decades, but it was Central Park, late in life, that gave her what she had been seeking: “nonstop subject matter.”

About the Museum of the City of New York
Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. Visit http://www.mcny.org to learn more.

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