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Jack Rutberg etches place in Pasadena art history – By Luke Netzley, Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor

Mar 3, 2024
Jack Rutberg has owned Jack Rutberg Fine Arts since 1979.

For gallery owner Jack Rutberg, the sale of art is a historic and noble pursuit. He believes art can evoke everlasting emotion, a philosophy that he carries with him to the newest location of the Jack Rutberg Fine Art Gallery at the corner of Pasadena’s South Lake Avenue and California Avenue.

“Anyone that hasn’t been brought down to their knees by particular works of art, just hasn’t been out there to really engage it,” Rutberg said. “It’s a rare experience, by the way. I’m not suggesting that it’s a common experience where your breath is taken away, but if you ever have the experience, then you have a bar with which to judge.

“The first time I ever held an etching in my hands, an original etching by Rembrandt, I remember it so distinctly. It gave me this connectivity. It gave me this connection to history. It’s a bit of immortality that you’re touching into because hundreds of years have passed, and the lives of others have protected this work so that I had the privilege to hold it, and I then am the conduit with which others were protected for posterity. That’s a powerful, powerful dynamic.”

The Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery was founded in 1979 on La Brea Avenue and has since become a resource for artists, collectors and historians alike. With an emphasis on connectivity and education, the new Pasadena space will look to continue showcasing modern and contemporary European, American and Latin American artists with museum-quality exhibitions.

Rutberg's gallery holds an array of modern and contemporary art.
The gallery is on the corner of South Lake and California Avenue.

“The space that we had was quite large,” Rutberg recalled. “We’ve moved into a very intimate space … Our very first exhibition, which I haven’t titled or anything like that, what I’m really doing is opening the doors and people will see a range of what we deal in. And the hope in doing that is that any museum-level collector, any beginning collector or just the person that wants to come through and enjoy themselves will think to themselves, ‘Wow, I can participate here.’

“When people read in the media … about the uber wealthy, the multimillion or hundred-million-dollar painting … this is not … That’s really not the art world. And what is in my gallery right now is a real wide range of works that span about a hundred years, but they’re all modern masters.”

Rutberg prides himself in making museum-quality art more accessible and creating a space that welcomes in people of all backgrounds, whether they are a seasoned collector, a new collector with a minor budget or a visitor simply enjoying the art.

“I do think that what has been lacking in Pasadena has been the gallery world where collectors can engage art of the level, or the same artists, as these museums,” Rutberg said. “They can’t engage it in Pasadena at an art gallery. And without art collectors, there’s no support for the museums…We all evolve somewhere. In music, we start with nursery rhymes. We make first steps, but it’s the art collectors who end up
being the great patrons of these museums, small and large, actually.”

Rutberg explained that when someone acquires a work of art from him, he feels an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. He’s thankful not only for the sale and the opportunities that come with commerce, but also for the idea that another person is carrying on the torch of preservation. He described art collectors as “the caretakers for the future,” whether they’re acquiring a piece for $500 or $500,000.

The gallery is a frequent lender to museum exhibitions and is now located in the neighborhood of several cultural institutions known across the world, namely the Norton Simon Museum and the Huntington Library, which Rutberg calls the “Versailles of Southern California.”

“What I have done was move away from the street front gallery,” he explained. “After 50 years of doing this, what I want above all is peace and beauty and aesthetics and comfort. And I think Pasadena is a wonderful place (for that). It feels like LA of old.”

With the new gallery space, Rutberg is eager to contribute to the artistic and cultural history of Pasadena and its surrounding communities while providing a new home for the rich tapestry of artists and art enthusiasts throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

The gallery’s collection, which contains paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures of varying price ranges, includes pieces by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Georges Braque, Francisco Zúñiga, Jordi Alcaraz, George Grosz, Gustavo Montoya, Jerome Witkin, Paul Klee, Robert Motherwell, George Condo, Reuben Nakian, Ruth Weisberg, Patrick Graham, Peter Krasnow, Hans Burkhardt, and many others. While several of the
names in the Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery are of the most famous in human history, Rutberg insists that visitors focus on their emotional connection to the pieces themselves.

“A great artist taught me early on that great art is subversive,” Rutberg recalled. “That’s not a negative thing. It subverts you from the place in which you’re standing. It takes you someplace. And now I don’t want to load everything up on this intense emotional journey, but those are the qualities that we have. When a parent looks at their child or when you look at your loved one, there are times that, when it’s really
right, you look at them and say, ‘Wow.’ And why not? Why not with the things around you, objects.

“To have things that are purely benign around us, it’s really boring…I can sit in my living room, and I’m not going to tell you this happens every day, but there’re those occasions where I look up at a work of art that I’m moved by, and there’s a wow factor … It’s not narrative. It’s evocative. And I’ve always been drawn to works that have that quality.

“(It has) to go from the head to the gut. Sometimes it just stays in the head, and I find that really boring. It has to go at least to the gut, and if it bypasses the heart, there’s something missing there.”

Rutberg is a firm believer that physical objects can be charged with emotion, carrying with them the tremors of past experiences and memories. He is able to continuously find such connections through works of art and expressed a desire to share that with others.

“The one experience that almost anybody can imagine about a charged object is that first time when you had a crush or were in love, and you walked down the beach with this person, and you might have picked up a stone or a shell or something and took it home and put it on your windowsill,” he explained. “Through that shell is evoked that whole magnificent feeling. It’s charged with that history, with that experience. And that’s what a great work of art does. And anybody can understand that … it’s not just about the beauty, but everything that comes through that object.

“We invest symbolism in objects, and sometimes people really regard these symbols in very inspiring ways. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a flag that has to do with patriotism, a crucifixion, a mandala … all these various symbols are charged for some people, and I think that art, without the load stone of that kind of dogma, shall we say … it moves you from that point, that place. You stand in front of something, you
come loaded with your own experience, and all of a sudden the right picture suddenly moves you into a different state.”

Rutberg expressed that the need for such a connectivity is heightened in a city like Los Angeles, which has “always been a place about the next 10 minutes.” It’s a city that he described as constantly looking to the future, where industries like music, film and aerospace have reigned supreme, along with consumerism and pop culture.

“That’s very fleeting, and that’s why I feel such importance in having the objects around you that are charged and sustain you,” Rutberg said. “I think we all should demand and search for and hope for the sublime, and that experience will be different for different people, but I think that’s the thing that has been missing.

“I hope we give that opportunity in the most casual way to people. I’ve always loved it when children would be brought to the gallery … We did fantastic music series, lectures, and I would receive students. Sometimes they would be grad students in a group, and sometimes literally grade school kids. And you know what? They were equally engaged.

“People cannot desire that which they do not know exists, and we just have to be given an opportunity to consider things. That’s all.”