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In 1970, during the height of the Vietnam War, a bomb was set off under a version of Rodin’s Thinker which sat in front of the Cleveland Art Museum. Radically, the museum decided to continue to display the sculpture in its damaged state—the figure’s legs are abruptly truncated, and the base splays out below like shrapnel. Anders Ruhwald’s stunning exhibition, The Hand is the Mind is the Bomb that Blows at Moran Bonderoff, uses the Cleveland Rodin as a lynchpin to consider notions of additive making, process, and the way in which external forces morph meaning (and form) over time.
Ruhwald’s 25 clay sculptures stand at a consistent height (of 56.75 inches) and are arranged throughout the gallery like so many soldiers in formation—at once abstract and figurative, they evoke technicolor personifications. Their linear arrangement, like ants in a line, form a square shape within the gallery, guiding the viewer through the process looking along a meandering path. Taken as a whole, the group represents a mass of uniformity, though the works demand singular consideration as they each present new surprising configurations of form, and cakey layers of beguiling application of glaze. Leaving (all works 2017) causes one to wonder what bodily coils lie beneath its thick acid-wash of teals and spring yellows. The work leans back slightly with forms that evoke shoulders or a curling leg, all compressed underneath undulating gauze, akin to a type of mummification.
Ruhwald has said that “the material is the friction I need to solidify my wandering thoughts,” though that phrase presents an inherent contradiction, as clay is not a solid (or necessarily stable) material. Instead, it insists on a certain unknowable quality with each added layer of glaze; mastery of material can only go so far in predicting what chemistries have taken place upon unloading the kiln. These days, as thoughts easily wander towards nuclear war, natural disaster, and political upheaval, Ruhwald insists on this type of openness, allowing things to contradict and gather information and context along the way. After all, an amputated Rodin with a fractured base is still a Rodin.
Anders Ruhwald: The Hand is the Mind is the Bomb that Blows runs September 9–October 7, 2017 at Moran Bondaroff (937 N. La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069)