Anders Ruhwald’s exhibition catalog for The Anatomy of a Home, is now available in cfile.library. For access to all of cfile.library begin your free membership trial today.
Anders Ruhwald: The Anatomy of a Home
Jönsson, Love; Isé, Claudine; Ólafsdóttir,Ásdís
Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2013
It would be rather enriching, I’m sure, to have some prior knowledge of the Saarinen family (early 20th century Finish-American designers) before touring Anders Ruhwald’s 2013 art installation The Anatomy of a Home at The Saarinen House on Cranbrook campus. But it is unnecessary. The house itself says quite a lot about the past dwellers, outfitted with the modernist furniture designs of Eliel and Eero Saarinen and the textile designs of Loja Saarinen between the 1930s-1950s.
In the catalog, Love Jönsson points out in his essay,
“The Saarinen House is a house of paradox…. a family home that was also designed to function as an arena for active social and professional life, the house accommodates both private and public spheres. Today it is a museum, presenting visitors with a historical milieu that is, in fact, partly reconstructed. Furthermore it was the home of an immigrant family, and in many aspects the house and its furnishings tell the story of a life in between two continents and cultures. Keeping in mind both Ruhwald’s Scandinavian origin and his manifest fascination with both modernist architecture and design, it is hard to imagine an exhibition space for his work more loaded with meaning than the Saarinen House.”
For all of these reasons, the house is a tricky exhibition space.
Having shown his work mostly in “white cubes” thus far in his career, installing in a historic home was probably not an easy task for Ruhwald, a Danish immigrant who lives and works at Cranbrook. He rose to the occasion with a site-sensitive installation that is relevant to the history of the Saarinen family and of himself.
In a house that itself is a piece of art, it’s a mission at times to decipher which item in each room is Ruhwald’s addition. Occasionally and especially in the case of the melting Lamp (Gottlieb’s Gaze) and The School of the Flower, the giant excrement shaped installation in the bathroom, the artist’s hand is impossible to miss. Other times Ruhwald’s additions feel more like a critique of the unmistakable Nordic modernist hand with which the Saarinens furnished it. Where modernist ceramic forms are usually sleek, clean and certain of themselves, Ruhwald’s work in the House bears (gasp!) traces of the hand and occupies Ruhwald’s signature space betwixt art and craft and design.
Ruhwald goes as far as replicating the famous vase form of Nordic designer Alvar Aalto; only Ruhwald’s doubles are more or less handmade feeling, with gradated and bumpy surfaces that call attention to the way the piece was actually crafted, and to the messy reality of working with clay. Where in modernism, the process of the making is disguised, or rather absent from the work.
When we peer into Ruhwald’s crystal ball located on a ceramic pedestal in the studio, we see an upside down reflection of the surrounding room, the furnishings, a rug by Loja and furniture by Eilel. Nearby in the dining room, Ruhwald has placed a large white bowl in the center of the dining table. The white glaze seems to be dripping upward off the rim of the object. Claudine Isé conjectures in her essay,
“Both works convey the odd sensation that time has stopped or has even been made to flow in reverse and in so doing they provoke consideration of Saarinen House’s multiple incarnations, its past lives along with its present reality.”
The Saarinen House is kept and preserved by Cranbrook Academy and Museum of Art.