“For Ruth, The Sky in Los Angeles: Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and David Horvitz” at Wende Museum

This surprisingly buoyant exhibition borrows its title from a tender 2016 drawing by David Horvitz, a text-based work consisting of the words “For Ruth, the sky in los angeles.” Written in blue-purple watercolor, Horvitz’s childlike scrawl conveys, more aptly than a photograph or a representational drawing, the beauty and elusiveness of a cloudless LA sky at dusk. 

The “Ruth” to whom the sky is addressed is Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, an artist born in 1932 who was active in East Germany from the 1970s until 1990, when she retired from artmaking after the Berlin Wall fell. Unfettered freedom, she felt, rendered her playfully subversive work superfluous. What Wolf-Rehfeldt made during those decades were sly objects that skated past the censors—works she called “typewritings,” drawings created on an Erika typewriter, first with droll words and phrases (clearly inspired by concrete poetry) and later purely with symbols that transform into texture on the page, sometimes accompanied by collage. Many of these pieces were sent to addresses around the world as mail art, a medium for connection and exchange that her husband, artist Robert Rehfeldt (1931–1993), had encouraged her to join him in cultivating.

Many years after her retirement, Wolf-Rehfeldt met Horvitz when his wife and collaborator Zanna Gilbert, a research specialist at the Getty Research Institute, sent him on a mission to the Rehfeldts’ vast archive of mail art in Berlin. Judging by this exhibition and its thoughtful catalogue, their acquaintance has been mutually fortuitous, bringing Wolf-Rehfeldt’s work to greater attention and drawing out some of the links between Horvitz’s poetic gestures and his art-historical touch points. Most salient is Horvitz’s exploration of art’s ability to bridge distances both physical and psychological, not unlike mail art at its height. Take The Distance of a Day, 2013, comprising two side-by-side iPhones playing videos the artist and his mother made at the very same moment, one of them observing the LA sunset and the other capturing the same sun rising over the Maldives. When being proximate is impossible, a reality we now all know too well, we might find comfort in this reminder that we still share the sun and sky, no matter how vast our separation.

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