Ulrich Rückriem (Düsseldorf, Germany, 1938) begins working as a sculptor in the Sixties after an intensive education in a stonemasons workshop where he learns the profession and stone cutting techniques - filing, splitting, smoothing and polishing. His experience in this craft forms the base from which he begins to formulate his own sculptures.
Although his artistic maturity coincides with Minimal Art, twentieth-century Sculpture is wary of Abstraction. In many cases, art is stylised but continues to be figurative, for instance in the work of Constantin Brancusi and Jean Arp. In others, sculpture becomes an open construction in space, as in the work of David Smith, Anthony Caro and Eduardo Chillida. Rückriem absorbs these ideas whilst also adhering to the concerns of some of the artists from his own generation, such as Carl André and Sol LeWitt, whose art comprises elemental and simple forms, non-mystical structures that offer a clear interpretation of how they are created and structured.
The basic principle behind Rückriem's work is that the original block of stone remains visible as a base, or a point of origin. It is this maxim that gives rise to the stele, a recurrent object in his work. A stele is a vertical slab of stone that, in contrast to a pillar, does not support weight; it is independent, meaning that it does not form part of any architectural structure and is created by being cut and sculpted by the hand of a craftsman. Traditionally, steles are used to mark places, for instance a grave, though it has a different purpose in the work of a sculptor.
Rückriem's first vertical stone piece dates back to 1968. In the work he displays the methods of splitting a vertical rectangular stone to ultimately divide it into five equal parts. The essential part in the process of creating steles is that there are no changes in volume or form.
This exhibition, devised specifically for the space in the Palacio de Cristal, forms part of the series “Installations”, in which the artist focuses on the determined theme of the vertical Stele Stones, whereby the volume accompanies, and is directly related to, the architectural rhythm of the building and its environment.
The installation is made up of two interior and three exterior pieces. The first set are twenty filed, unpolished rocks of limestone from Ireland. The steles, measuring precisely 50 x 50 x 150 cm, are split vertically and horizontally into various pieces through different processes, and are then placed back in their original position. Moreover, in the inside of the Palacio de Cristal two filed dolomite rocks, measuring 60 x 60 x 180 cm, from Westphalia are exhibited, in which he applies similar techniques to the previous pieces.
The exterior pieces, located in the Retiro Park, are two natural granite rocks from Austria and a block of blue granite from Vire in Normandy. The latter is divided into five parts, with the inside hollowed out. These outdoor works appear sunken in the ground up to their first horizontal fissure, thus moulding with the landscape and the surrounding architecture.
Rückriem's complete installation, despite the weight of the material, is a collection of separable fragments recomposed in their original form. R. H. Fuchs, the exhibition’s curator, believes the beauty of the steles lies in the transparency and legibility of the sculptural language.