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‘Touchstones’: Jack Rutberg Fine Arts Hosts Ruth Weisberg Exhibition – By Luke NetzleyPasadena Weekly Deputy Editor

Mar 3, 2024
Ruth Weisberg’s “The Blessing” was the centerpiece of her exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum in 2008. 80 x 96 inches, Oil and Mixed Media on Unstretched Canvas.

Ruth Weisberg has long been a leading voice in the advancement Ruth of contemporary women artists in Los Angeles. The subject of over 80 solo and nearly 200 group exhibitions, her work has been included in the permanent collections of over 60 museums around the world. Through Saturday, Dec. 23, 21 of her artworks will be shown in a new exhibition titled “Ruth Weisberg: Touchstones” at Pasadena’s Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery.

Ruth Weisberg has long been a leading voice in the advancement Ruth of contemporary women artists in Los Angeles. The subject of over 80 solo and nearly 200 group exhibitions, her work has been included in the permanent collections of over 60 museums around the world. Through Saturday, Dec. 23, 21 of her artworks will be shown in a new exhibition titled “Ruth Weisberg: Touchstones” at Pasadena’s Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery.

“Ruth is such a longtime figure here in LA,” owner Jack Rutberg said. “She’s a hero to a great many artists, particularly women artists. She’s pioneered a lot for them as an artist and as an influential teacher as well.”

Weisberg is currently a professor at the University of Southern California, where she was the longest tenured dean of its school of art and design. She was also the second woman to become president of the College Art Association, one of the largest bodies of art scholars and educators in the world.

“The impacts that she has made are genuine,” Rutberg said. “The Roski School of Art and Design’s very existence is indebted to Ruth Weisberg.”

Rutberg added that he met several of her former students at the exhibition’s opening reception who had high praise for their mentor.

“Her students have very different sensibilities. She wasn’t there to teach someone to be like Ruth Weisberg, which is really the sign of a great teacher,” he said. “Ruth is so valued by all of her students. … She has this remarkable capacity that when you engage Ruth, it’s just the two of you. You would think that she has nothing else to do. She’s really there for people, and as a teacher that’s quite valuable.”

Through her work, Weisberg has played a core role in LA’s art history. Her solo exhibition, in tandem with feminist artist Judy Chicago’s solo show, inaugurated the Women’s Building after its opening in 1973. Her art has since been shown in such spaces as the Getty Research Institute; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Biblioteque Nationale in Paris; and the Institute Nationale per la Grafica in Rome.

“Ruth is, as many artists can be, a storyteller, but she isn’t all about sharing,” Rutberg explained. “There are certain people that just want to be heard. I think Ruth wants to present things to be considered, and that distinguishes her in many ways. … She is reflecting and challenging experiences and works of art that preceded her.”

La Comedia e Finita 1977, Original Lithograph

In much of Weisberg’s work, she places herself or people she loves within paintings as a way of interrogating each piece, viewing them through the lens of her own journeys and emotions. Rutberg said memory and connectivity are central elements in her art and that instead of addressing themes like the Holocaust or the empowerment of women with protest and anger, she prioritizes poignancy and reflection.

“I’m not suggesting for a minute that Ruth didn’t have protests within her makeup, but her works of art are really works of poignancy and they’re accessible in that sense,” he said. “You’re not being yelled at; you’re put in a position to consider, and that’s a very powerful element that seems to be lacking in contemporary discourse right now in our world.

“She’s putting her paintings in front of us and saying, ‘Consider this.’ I think that consequential art is that which makes us consider. Liking and disliking are easy, but to be put in front of a picture and think about it … is a unique realm.”

Rutberg raised the example of Weisberg’s 1975 piece “Together Again,” which shows a group of children standing together in a clouded space. The work evokes both memories of Weisberg’s childhood in Chicago and children who were lost in the Holocaust.

“She’s not dealing with death camps and horror; she’s placing herself and her reflections of the children that she once played with in contrast to ‘what if she had been born in Berlin?” Rutberg said. “Through seeing these reunions of children, we don’t really know if these are the ones that were lost or the ones that survived, and I think that kind of open-ended idea is really significant.”

Rutberg described Weisberg’s works as autobiographical. Her piece “Waterbourne” depicts her body curled into a fetal position and floating in a pool of water. Weisberg created the piece shortly before giving birth in 1973, but Rutberg said it could also have symbolized the birth of emerging possibilities for women.

“It functions on so many levels,” he said. “This was a very provocative time in the history of women in the art world. There were protests and marches … and also the formations of organizations in the arts in the women’s movement.”

Weisberg’s paintings, drawings and prints also draw on her interest in art history, reimagining the works of masters like William Blake, Titian, Paolo Veronese, Camille Corot, Guido Cagnacci and Alberto Giacometti.

With her painting “The Blessing,” which is approximately 8 feet wide, Weisberg was inspired by Cagnacci’ s “Martha Rebuking Mary for Her Vanity.” The piece became the centerpiece of her 2008 exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum, where she was the first contemporary painter to be afforded a solo show.

Weisberg was also the first contemporary painter to have a solo exhibition at the Huntington Museum in 1999 following a series inspired by a Blake engraving in the museum’s collection. Works from this historic exhibition are on display in “Touchstones.”

“I’m particularly proud of the ‘Touchstones’ exhibition because it is distilled, in a small number of works, to reveal a lifelong commitment, engagement and constancy. There’s a continuum in this body of work, and it has those elements of memory and reflection,” Rutberg said. “The main hope is for people to come in and find their own experience, and they truly have the opportunity to live with these pieces and buy them.

“We’re not a museum, yet we feel like one in many respects. … What we really hope to do is to place these works in the world and for people to engage them, enjoy them and ultimately end up saving them for future generations.”