Ruth Vollmer

Ruth Vollmer, untitled, late 1950s
Sep 01, 2011 - Jul 31, 2013
Voorhees Gallery

Ruth Vollmer (1902–1982) was an early and distinctive figure among the American artists who turned toward geometric and minimalist forms during the 1960s and 1970s. A generation older than such artists as Carl Andre, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, and Sol LeWitt, Vollmer had considerable influence within this artistic circle. They viewed Vollmer as both a peer and an inspirational figure. Vollmer often emphasized the mathematical impetus behind her art, with many sculptures and drawings derived directly from mathematical equations.

Born in Germany, Vollmer immigrated to the United States with her husband in 1935. Her first recognition came from her department store window displays and large-scale retail tableaux for Bonwit Teller, Lord & Taylor, and Tiffany. For one such display she constructed animals and mannequins simply from wire netting, realizing her objective “to exhibit, commercially, wire sculpture for its own beauty.” Thus, from the early years of her career, Vollmer’s creativity was marked by the fusion of apparently contrasting concepts: mathematical precision and natural organicism; materials in both raw and manipulated states; elegance and casualness.

Her work ranged over many media including ceramic, wood, metal, and acrylic plastic, and the majority of her sculpture embodies an intellectual rigor expressed in the exacting craftsmanship of geometric solids, intersecting planes, and complex, curved surfaces. Vollmer handled various materials to reveal their inherent visual interest, and sometimes shaped them into forms that seemed counterintuitive to their expected functions: wood turned into a screw, or plastic fashioned to resemble a mollusk’s shell.

Vollmer’s expansive view of geometry can be seen in a short musing on that basic form, the sphere. Within a few sentences, Vollmer ranges from the romantic to the intellectual, “Being immersed in the mystery of the sphere, I can vaguely perceive a variety of manifestations: cosmic and earthly, biological and crystalline.” Shifting focus, she continues, “Of all forms, the sphere is the most purely three-dimensional…. It touches any plane at only one point. And a sphere can never be constructed from planes.”

This exhibition includes recent gifts and future bequests to the Zimmerli Art Museum from Leo Rabkin, a sculptor and longtime friend of Vollmer, as well as several loans from Rabkin. Three Vollmer sculptures on view were previously donated to the Zimmerli through the estate of Betty Parsons, the notable gallery owner who represented Vollmer’s work and was also a close friend of the artist.

Ruth Vollmer

Untitled, late 1950s


Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Gift of Leo Rabkin

Photo Peter Jacobs