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MODERN ICONS / Chairs: Are you sitting comfortably? Iain Gale on the artist Reiner Ruthenbeck

Since the early 1970s, the German sculptor Reiner Ruthenbeck, one-time student of Joseph Beuys, has been working on a series entitled Overturned Furniture in which ordinary household chairs and tables are laid on their side or turned upside-down. Versions have been shown in Sydney, Vienna, Frankfurt and Bremen. The artist seldom feels the need to explain his work and the catalogue which accompanies his current London show seems intended to justify his silence: 'How is one to do justice in words to the very artist who pursues, with a radical zeal matched by few others, the 'expulsion of language from art'?'

To understand, the viewer must merely look: 'The work refers only to itself, its state of staying put . . . The defining factor in Ruthenbeck's work is antithesis: the tension and resolution between opposites . . . The work explores the dichotomy between the orthodox uses of furniture in our society and its capability to be subverted and 'overturned', revealing our more vulnerable relationship to objects.' In a rare statement from 1986, Ruthenbeck himself offered the following additional advice for the perplexed: 'In my work . . . I have reduced formal structures as far as possible. The result seems to offer relatively little nourishment to the intellect. I would like thereby to bring the viewer to a contemplative, holistic acceptance of my art.' As the catalogue puts it: 'Noisy enthusiasm is inappropriate; gentle irony may be extracted from the work itself.'

To 8 July, Goethe Institut, SW7. Booking: (071-411 3400)

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