Painter Peter Ruta, ninety-four this year, has gained an international recognition in the past decade, as museums in New York City, Germany, and Italy have celebrated some aspect of his career. This Westbeth exhibition surveys his entire range and development, from the early 50s through 2012.
Born in Germany, raised in Italy, Ruta reached New York as a refugee from Fascism in 1936. He began painting the next year at the Art Students’ League. After military service (U.S. infantry, wounded on Bataan, 1945) he returned to Italy for ten years, painting in Venice, Rome and on the Bay of Naples. In New York in the 60’s he flirted with the Pop manner, in a by now historic series of paintings based on news photos of politicians, protest marches and the events of Dallas, November 63. With their blank faces and stiff bodies, his politicians have an eery timeliness.
His true vocation: painting the American landsdcape. From 1970, working outdoors from the motif, in Mexico, New Mexico, New England and New York, Ruta managed to combine the structural clarity of his early Italian work with a rugged, energetic lyricism, in paintings both powerful and serene. In 2000 and 2001 he painted Manhattan from the 9lst floor of the North Tower, World Trade Center. Beginning in 2000, he brought everything he had learned outdoors over a thirty year period back into his lower Manhattan studio, in an ongoing series of kinetic, baroque, still life paintings of fruit and veg heaped into tabletop volcanoes and slippery slopes.
A witness to nearly a century of art history, in the late 1930s, Ruta was monitor in the fresco class of Jean Charlot, who trained the Mexican muralists. Charlot sent Ruta to Mexico City in 1939, where he boarded with Siqueiros’ family and worked at the fabled Taller de Grafica Popular. In New York 1940 Ruta met the surrealists arriving from Paris. His friendship with Chilean painter Roberto Matta dated from that time. In Italy in 1947 Ruta drew close to Leo Stein, living his last summer in Settignano. In Venice, in 1949, Peggy Guggenheim sought Ruta’s help in locating a palazzo to purchase. (She finally took someone else’s advice.) In New York in the 60’s, Ruta edited ARTS magazine, publicizing new talents like Nauman and Kusama.
Ruta’s work is in the collections of the Uffizi Gallery, the Museum of the City of New York, the Leipzig Stadtgeschichtliches Museum (that displays this son of antiNazi and Jewish emigres with Leipzig painters of the late 20th century) and Villa Rufolo, Ravello, where his Italian work was shown in spring 2012.