I saw the recent photograms of Thomas Ruff in Düsseldorf, but since they are entirely digital you could call them imitation photograms. But that would only apply to the ones that have the typical photogram look, with some straight lines and a few circles and a few shapes that look like they might be shadows of common objects. Photograms are normally made with ready-made things, and usually have arrangements that look like modernist design. The legacy of the twenties is hard to shake. But Ruff’s better works go even farther back, looking like nothing so much as cubism. I imagine most painters would object to the
impervious photographic surface, but I’m bothered less by that than I am fascinated by shapes that twist my brain around, that make me follow them into their own convoluted spaces. In other words, Ruff is making abstractions, and they’re not bad. There’s sufficient energy there that de Kooning and Klee and Kandinsky can put in appearances, along with Braque and Picasso, maybe even Picabia. But then we learn once again that modern art doesn’t change that much, and the middle of the road continues to be heavily traveled.