Sculg’ting by num ers

Her career was as unconventional as her art, but at last the name of RUTH VOLLMER is gaining recognition. Words: Jack Mottram

uth Vollmer"s contribution to mid-20th

century art is often overlooked. from her

influence on her contemporaries to her own considerable body of work. lnverleith llouse‘s latest show is an attempt to redress the balance.

'The appreciation of Ruth Vollmer’s work and her contribution to mid to late 20th century art rests with a small group: usually artists. Usually in New York.’ says exhibition co-organiser (iraham l)omke. ‘That filters down to people like Alan Johnston. a lecturer at lidinburgh (‘ollege of Art. who introduced us to the work. This is the first ever showing of her work in the UK. She‘s just not known about outside these pockets of people. and is often better known as a collector.‘

Vollmer‘s career is nothing if not unconventional. llaving emigrated to the L'S from Germany. she found work as a graphic designer and window dresser. working on displays for Bloomingdales and Tiffany’s. only turning to art practice at the age of 57. Her inspiration and working methods. too. were out of the ordinary.

‘Mathematics in nature is the underpinning of it.‘ says l)omke. 'There are sculptures that play with the sphere. a lot of it‘s based on liuclidean maths. She was interested in natural forms. especially shells and the way they follow the l’ibonacci sequence. These subtle ideas. sometimes based on other people's drawings or on logarithmic patterns. just contain so much of the joy of numbers. the joy of maths.‘

Vollmer"s fascination with natural science was fostered at monthly gatherings held in her New York home. where scientists rubbed shoulders with young

90 THE LIST ’-1 ’2'", Mar 2U)?

‘These subtle ideas contain so much of the joy of maths’

Untitled coloured pencil on tracing paper, 1977

artists. many of whom went on to find fame eclipsing Vollmer's own. from liva llesse and Robert Smithson to Sol l.e\\'itt and Richard 'l‘uttle. ‘She would have these salons in her house. which had an amazing contemporary art collection. and hold debates to learn more.' says l)omke. "Through this she quite often worked with scientists. technical experts and mathematicians. and had help from them to understand all these concepts in her work.‘ Drawing on the expertise of her guests led to Vollmer creating works in spun aluminium in collaboration with experts at Boeing. and identifying the complex algorithms that dictate the growth of everything from snail shells to fern leaves. The resulting pieces range from deceptively simple drawings in crayon and pencil on tracing paper to sculptural renderings of mathematical forms in bronze or perspex. exploring the relationship between cubes and spheres. or tackling

endless equations to create the likes of

l’scrulnsp/icrv. the exhibition‘s centrepiece.

Vollmer’s work is. however. far more than a dry inquiry into and interpretation of the mathematical formulae that underpin the natural world. and. while the bulk of her work is based in i‘igoi‘otis conceptual investigation. this can take the form of rather playful sculptures designed to be played as musical instruments or dipped in soapy water to produce bubbles. (liven \r'ollmer‘s preoccupation with science and nature. lnverleith llousc ought to provide the perfect selling for her work.

‘The exhibition coincides with the International Science l’estival.’ says l)omke. ‘lt‘s not part of it. but the show will help people further their understanding of nature. in that you can see the drawings of spirals in the gallery and then see ferns in the glasshouse growing according to those patterns. This meeting of the landscape and setting of the Botanic (iarden. its basis as a scientific institution and the work itself. should create a really beautiful synei‘gy.'

Ruth Vollmer Drawings And Sculpture is at lnverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Sun 24 Mar-Sun 5 May.

News from the world of art

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DISTILLED LIVE SCOTLAND in New York is a three-day showcase of contemporary Scottish culture which will take place at the Boylan Studios, New York from 4-6 April, to coincide with the Tartan Day celebrations. Proving that there’s more to Scotland than tartan and shortbread, there will be appearances from celebrities, performances from comedians and musicians, day-time seminars and a white cube space will be created to show work by some of Scotland’s leading artists including Dalziel + Scullion, Douglas Gordon and Stewart & Smith. For more information log onto www.disti|

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