Photography by Julia Lynn

Brian Rutenberg

Why is art important in your life?

Every couple of years I re-read E.H. Gombrich’s “The Story of Art.” He begins with the statement, “There is really no such thing as Art. There are only artists.” I have been painting for 30 years, and the role of art in my life has changed over the years, it has gotten simpler. Art is about the intensification of limitations. I am obsessed with the notion of containment, and a painting is a condensed artificial thing into which we project our vitality. Art is permission. Studying art history is permission. Freedom can make you a formidable artist, but freedom coupled with permission makes you bulletproof.

What is your first memory of art?

As a child I shared a bedroom with my younger brother John. On the wall between our beds hung a framed reproduction of Emanuel Leutzes’ Washington Crossing The Delaware, 1851. I was no more than seven years old and had no idea what the events in the painting meant, however, I had a deep visceral response to the glacial monumentality of the shapes, the groupings of figures, the dim light, and the way he uses red to move the eye around. I stared at the shapes as my eyes adjusted to the dark after my parents turned off the lights and gazed intently at it as the sun came up. The artist was telling a story without words. He was speaking to me, only to me, in that moment. All I had to do is show up.

What is your most memorable art experience?

When my Dad was about the age I am now (47) he was surf fishing alone one silvery Carolina afternoon and caught a $100 bill. After he untangled the note from the strands of seaweed, he got into his blue station wagon, drove to Western Sizzler, and ordered the biggest steak on the menu, medium rare. He drove back to the beach, crouched on the cold sand like a caveman and ate the meat with his bare hands. My debut solo exhibition in New York City was in September 1993. The night after the reception I went to the ATM and took out a $100 bill. Then I walked to Old Homestead Steakhouse and ordered the biggest rib eye they had, medium rare. I headed South into Greenwich Village, sat on a stoop, and ate the meat with my hands. I was free.

Who is your favorite artist?
Why are museums important to you?

A museum is not a static archive of dates and relics, but a living, breathing organism for personal reflection, scholarship, and ecstasy. Art teaches us to see with greater acuity and fills us with a rage for life. A museum concentrates these purposes in a public forum we can share with each other, it represents the highest of human achievement. A museum is a love letter to ourselves.


Favorite Artwork: