- “Sterling Ruby has just opened a 90,000 sq ft studio in California” Financial Times London
Sterling Ruby: Balancing Act
Controversy hasn’t stopped the artist from coming out on top.
The artist Sterling Ruby’s bright future appears momentarily in doubt as he turns left off 26th Street in an industrial sector of downtown Los Angeles and suddenly faces a tractor-trailer, its white cab aglitter with chrome and menace. A split-second later, it’s clear that there’s no real danger—the truck is slowing to make a wide right turn—but the approaching hulk still appears ominous from the lower perspective of Ruby’s front seat. Its headlights are fierce eyes, the massive grille a toothy maw, and the manufacturer’s name, approaching us at eye level, is declared in manly block letters: sterling. “I was almost taken out by Sterling,” notes the 42-year-old with daredevil glee.
In a decade that has seen Ruby become the dominant L.A. artist of his generation and a star on this year’s international biennial circuit, he has faced actual perils that might have flattened a less ambitious man. In 2005, he was denied a master’s degree from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena because his advisory committee split sharply on the merit of his final project, which included a messy and perhaps incomplete thesis and a weird video triptych that showed the artist in flagrante with a skull—a shaky reference both to Shakespeare and to perhaps more senior local artists like Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. Three years later, Ruby survived the bust-up of his first studio, a collective space in one of Los Angeles’s gangland neighborhoods. And, more recently, he weathered the charge of being a careerist gallery hopper after he moved in quick succession from L.A. based Marc Foxx to Manhattan’s relatively low-key Metro Pictures to the more internationally known Pace Gallery to the global powerhouse Hauser & Wirth.
But none of those threats to Ruby’s reputation as a serious artist have imperiled his ability to make money. Like a punk rocker who breaks into the Top 40, Ruby has surged to market heights, thanks largely to support from supercollectors including Michael Ovitz, who set up a meeting with Pace when Ruby decided to leave Metro Pictures.
“ ‘Material’ is the word that comes to mind when I think of Sterling’s work,” says the artist Alex Israel, a 31-year-old native Angeleno. “I remember thinking the first time I saw one of his ceramic pieces that no one was doing ceramics and yet he made it seem relevant and gorgeous and really fresh. And his stalagmites are these strong totemic sculptures that appear malleable and liquid. He’s inventing new forms that are somehow both alien and familiar—that feel like they are tapping into the pulse of our time. Sterling’s work doesn’t look like anyone else’s.”
Like a punk rocker who breaks into the Top 40, Ruby has surged to market heights.
And yet, until recently, his rise has not been universally cheered by critics. “Sterling has such a drive to produce, and he wound up being very commercially viable, very early on,” says Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, which will feature Ruby as one of eight artists in “The Los Angeles Project,” an exhibition opening in September. “For those of us in the critical establishment, that kind of success usually creates a disinclination to like the work. Artists who are able to build a giant apparatus marginalize themselves by being too successful, unless it becomes part of their shtick, like with Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. But Sterling is sincere.”
And as for the observers who fret about Ruby’s equally sincere commitment to sales—well, time is on his side. A generation of young curators including Tinari, who is in his mid-30s, came of age in the era of superstar artists like Hirst and are less inclined to look down on business savvy. These new arbiters are the ones who have booked up Ruby’s exhibition schedule. This year alone, his signature clay “basins”—which look like oversize ashtrays drenched with wet-finish glazes and filled with the fragments of earlier pieces—were included in the Whitney Biennial, and the Baltimore Museum of Art recently opened a show of “soft work”: fabric sculptures of what Ruby calls “vampire mouths.” (“My Rolling Stones tongue,” he jokes.) Ruby unveils new works in May at Hauser & Wirth, New York; in September at Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo; and he will also be represented at the Gwangju and Taipei biennials, which open at the same time as the Ullens Center exhibition in Beijing. He calls the run of transpacific dates his “Asian tour.”
Ruby’s booming career is reflected in the spaces that have given rise to it. When I first saw his current studio on 26th Street some five years ago, he and his 10 assistants had just moved in, and the place seemed gigantic. The converted industrial space consists of a series of workshops, each dedicated to one of the many materials Ruby uses in his versatile practice. One is for drawing; another for ceramics (the basins are made with up to 300 pounds of clay); another for ceiling-high poured-urethane sculptures (his instantly recognizable “stalagmites”); another for fabric collages; another for paintings (up to 20 feet wide); and, finally, a white-walled gallery to display completed works. The really big pieces are assembled outside: The cardboard-and-urethane forms used to cast his stove sculptures require a forklift to transport them around the studio. After my first tour, I walked away unsure of how to characterize him as an artist (sculptor? ceramist? painter?) but with a clear understanding that everything about Ruby’s practice, apart from his own compact physical stature, was XXL.
Now, five years later, Ruby and his current team of 14 assistants have outgrown 26th Street, and he’s building a new studio nearby that dwarfs the old one. The compound encompasses four acres—more than two acres are under roofs. When you set foot inside the main building, the feeling you have is something like awe. Its central bow-truss ceiling soars to 42 feet and is flanked by barrel vaults on either side. Thirty thousand square feet will be devoted to a viewing room where Ruby can study his work—a mega-gallery of his own. A separate building houses a ceramics studio with glass-fronted bays large enough to park in. Another 10,000-square-foot corrugated-metal building is reserved for storage, so that Ruby can hold back 50 percent of his production as a personal archive. On the bright spring day when Ruby shows me around, it is months before he will begin moving in, and only one artwork has been installed. It is, predictably, large. The cast-bronze basin is a Pompeian riff on his ceramics, he says, and it could easily serve as a wading pool for Ruby as well as his wife, the artist Melanie Schiff, and their children were it not tipped up as a wall sculpture and filled with quasi-archeological scrap from the foundry in China that fabricated it. If Ruby’s current studio is XXL, this new one will be XXXXL.
Born in 1972 to a Dutch mother and an American father in Bitburg, Germany, Ruby and his family lived for a time in Baltimore before moving to rural Pennsylvania, the childhood home with which he most strongly identifies. By 13, he was focused on the California punk scene and busy with a sewing machine that his mother had given him; his peers preferred shop class. Ruby got into a lot of fights. He still sews, and in addition to his fabric sculptures, he makes fabric-collage “paintings” that reference the Pennsylvania quilting tradition; he even designed his own studio wardrobe of denim trucker jackets, jeans, and aprons—all splattered with paint and drips of urethane. Ruby’s attire intrigued the fashion designer Raf Simons, the creative director at Christian Dior, who has collected Ruby’s work in depth and referenced it in his designs since they became acquainted nearly a decade ago. At Simons’s prompting, the two designed a collection for Simons’s eponymous men’s wear label; it was shown in Paris this past January, vampire-mouth fabric sculptures looming over the runway. “When we worked together, it was almost like being married,” Simons recalls of the collaboration, noting that his family in Belgium lives just across the border from Ruby’s Dutch relatives—a bond they discovered when they first met. “The collection grew out of years of talking—so many similarities between us, so many shared interests. It was a really natural thing to do.” Ruby likens the experience to the Bauhaus practice of combining craft and fine art, and says he loved the standing ovation that ended the show. “Raf was crying, and I was crying,” Ruby recalls with a laugh. “Everybody was standing up, cheering. At that moment I thought, Fuck being an artist—this is wonderful.”
Ruby realizes that some may look askance at his fashion-world dalliance, but he prefers not to distinguish between his side projects and his so-called serious work, because he views what he does as a single practice that challenges old artistic hierarchies that place metal and paint (“masculine”) above ceramics and fabric (“feminine”). Former Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) chief curator Paul Schimmel, who is now a partner in Hauser & Wirth’s upcoming L.A. gallery, suggests that Ruby’s dislike of such judgments stems from his view of himself as an art world outsider, someone who grew up far from the “thin sliver of culture” along America’s coasts. “It’s almost a moral stance for him,” Schimmel says. “It’s fundamental to how he sees himself.”
Since arriving in California, Ruby has consistently explored antisocial behavior.
After his undergraduate years at a small Pennsylvania art college that emphasized unfashionable craftsmanship courses and sketching live nudes, Ruby earned a BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Then he headed west in 2002 to attend Arts Center, attracted by what he calls the “pathology” of Los Angeles and the presence of established artists including Kelley, who was then an Arts Center faculty member; Chris Burden; and Paul McCarthy. “It was a completely different art world than New York,” Ruby explains one morning at the pleasant but modest house he and Schiff own in Sunland, about 45 minutes from downtown L.A. “It seemed way more dangerous. I was drawn to that.”
Apparently, the sketchy fringe still appeals. The suburb used to be a Hells Angels hideout. “Some of the neighbors were unsure about having a couple of artists move in,” Ruby says as he shows me around the acre plot and his contemporary house—painted matte black—shaded by oaks. But over time, the Ruby-Schiff clan has quietly fit in. “It reminds me of where I’m from. Sort of rural. We have a Sizzler.”
Since arriving in California, Ruby has consistently explored antisocial behavior and his own relationship to art history. He assisted Kelley as a grad student, and from their conversations, he developed the notion of the artist as criminal, someone who decontextualizes meaning and faith with only a skewed sense of social responsibility. Ruby’s key themes were fully expressed in his breakout solo museum exhibition, “Supermax 2008,” at MOCA, which drew parallels between the penal system and art history, the common thread being incarceration and repression. It amounted to a forceful reaction against the theory-heavy curriculum at Arts Center, where, in Ruby’s opinion, discussion was given precedence over studio time. Almost as revenge against the faculty who denied him a degree, Ruby stuffed as many handmade objects as possible into the galleries. The exhibition included sculptures, paintings, drawings, and collages, all of which shifted abruptly between the anthropomorphic (goopy, drippy, wet) and the geometric. “It had to be packed, dense, confusing,” Ruby explains. “It had to be nauseating.” Some of the hard-edged sculptures were purposely defaced with dirty smudges and graffiti, as if Ruby were “tagging” the pristine legacy of his minimalist and conceptualist forebears. Some visitors walked away saying “This guy needs to figure out what he wants to do,” Ruby recalls. Ovitz and his curator, Nu Nguyen, were not among them. “I was blown away that he could work in so many materials and deliver a message as coherent as it was,” Ovitz says. “We sat in there for about an hour, and when we got in the car, we called his studio to start talking to him about doing something for us.”
Ruby had produced the “Supermax 2008” work at the studio he shared with a revolving cast of 10 to 15 other young artists—including Amanda Ross-Ho, Brenna Youngblood, and Aaron Curry—in the aptly named Hazard Park neighborhood. Their dilapidated sheet-metal building once partially collapsed during a minor earthquake; another day, a shoot-out took place on their street. Ruby and his studio-mates were energized by the gritty reality of making art among the gangbangers: It felt dangerous and, thus, somehow authentic. “I think in many ways the best part of being there was that we were working toward a movement,” he recalls. “We fed off one another.” But the group fragmented only three years after it was formed. Feeling hemmed in by the emotional complications of navigating friendship, studio life, and gallery politics, Ruby left in 2008. He skirts the details of the studio’s breakup, other than to say, “It was a pretty conscious effort to drop out.”
Today, Ruby keeps an orderly 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday work schedule. He insists that his real job is making stuff, and he goes to work like a blue-collar man. He -acknowledges that he’s not entirely comfortable with the established gallery system—“Very early on, I started to think about what it is to share 50 percent of your income with a dealer,” he says—and he cites Kelley and Burden as other artists with working-class roots who taught him to be pragmatic about money. “I have to say that I can’t do this without the dealers,” he tells me on another day. “But I think that at some point in the future, they will have less of an impact on the market, and artists will do things differently.”
Nine years out of grad school, Ruby oversees a studio humming with activity and is making the transition from “young” to “midcareer” artist. When I show up at the studio a week after our meeting in Sunland, Ruby emerges like an apparition in a paint-splattered white-denim outfit that looks as if it had doubled as a drop cloth. He jokingly calls it “studio camo.” Sitting down, he tells me a story he apparently forgets having told me the week before. Ruby recently ran into the artist Diana Thater, whom he knew as a grad student at Arts Center but hadn’t seen for years, and certainly not since she became chair of the graduate faculty that had denied Ruby his degree. “The first thing she said was, ‘Sterling, I’m the chair. I can get you your degree now,’ ” he recalls. At first, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to sew up this small rip in his legitimacy, but then he told his studio assistants to dig into his digital archives for a copy of his forgotten thesis and video project to send Thater. The degree would be purely symbolic at this point, but apparently old scars still smart. “I figured I paid for it,” Ruby says. “I should probably have it.”
Sterling Ruby Talks His New Show, Punk Rock, and Why You Won’t Find Him at Frieze
May 12, 2014 10:02am
Photo: HANGING FIGURES (4838); 2014; Fabric and fiberfill; 388.6 x 480.1 x 414 cm / 153 x 189 x 163 in
Thanks to a Fall ’14 menswear collaboration with Raf Simons, Sterling Ruby has become somewhat of a household name amongst the fashion set. But in the midst of his splattered sartorial foray, many missed out on the sheer scope and scale of Ruby’s accomplishments off the catwalk (as far back as 2008, The New York Times’ Roberta Smith dubbed him “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century”).
Sunrise Sunset, which bowed in NYC Friday night at Hauser & Wirth’s West 18th Street outpost, offers a good opportunity to catch up. The L.A.-based Ruby has tackled 10,000 square feet of exhibition space to create a wondrously ominous playground of new works. His pieces are informed as much by institutions (Ruby was born on a military base in Bitburg, Germany, and grew up in the darkly named, rural town of New Freedom, Pennsylvania) as a lack thereof (punk and skate cultures were among his earliest aesthetic touchstones). Faceless, flaccid effigies in a deceptively cuddly Stars and Stripes fleece hang from the rafters, and a bleach-riddled patchwork flag presides over the space from a back wall. Elsewhere, murky, spray-painted horizons recall graffiti. Ranging from ruminations to eviscerations, these works turn an eye to topics like the prison system and U.S. military involvement, and are affecting in a way that’s rare for such large-scale pieces.
We sat down with the master of many mediums to talk punk, bleach, and why you “goddamn well” won’t find him at Frieze.
Photo: SCALE / BATS, BLOCKS, DROP (4837); 2014; Wood, steel, fabric and fiberfill, paint, and mixed media; 459.7 x 454.7 x 396.2 cm / 181 x 179 x 156 in
I’ve read that you came to art through punk rock and skate culture. Can you talk a little bit about that?
I grew up primarily in rural Pennsylvania. I went to a pretty straight agriculture school. We had calligraphy and we had drafting—those were the only two art classes. And around the age of 12, I think I loved skateboarding and the associations [with it]. At that point in time, skateboarding was so closely merged with not only the aesthetics but also the attitude of California punk. There wasn’t necessarily a cultural background to my family; there weren’t museums. My family didn’t know art. It wasn’t a visual childhood, and so when I reached 12, 13, I got super-obsessed with that kind of lifestyle [and there] was already a type of aesthetic associated with that, and so it was to me a real challenge to associate a look with an attitude, and that became something that has mostly held true throughout my adulthood. Later on, when I started to meet a lot of other artists, like Mike Kelley, those things were also how they were introduced to visual culture. Not through art, per se, but through music.
Why L.A.? I’ve heard people talking a lot about the artistic community there being at a point of change.
I first started art school in 1990, and I went to a straight formal foundation school in Pennsylvania. When I say foundation school, it was like four years of figure studies, bowls of fruit, perspective and a lot of color theory. But the school modeled most of its curriculum on, like, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, which stops very much at modernism. I mean, you had your de Kooning books, but there wasn’t anything that seemed crazy and out there, and I remember sometime around ’93, Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s was bought by the library at the school. It was such a strange thing for this library to get, and I liked the pathology of the work that I saw within [it]. That made me really interested in Los Angeles as a place, as opposed to, say, New York. Years later I went to visit for the first time and I just felt super-comfortable with it, and I knew that I could feed off of that behavioral geographic. So when I wanted to go to graduate school, I only applied to two places— Art Center [College of Design] and UCLA. UCLA didn’t let me in, so I went to Art Center. But it was perfect. I became Mike Kelley’s teaching assistant for three years, and I’ve been pretty happy ever since. It’s also cheaper; you can work outside most of the year; and geographically, there’s a lot of diversity within it. It’s a big suburb. It’s not a real city, you know? And I quite like that about it. It’s so spread out and there’s a lot of hermeticism. People can easily stay isolated for long periods of time, whereas I think the logistics of New York don’t allow that as much.
How do you feel about the proliferation of art fairs?
I don’t really feel one way or another about it, but I think strategically I’ve realized that you need to be more selective or you’ll burn yourself out. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of people seeing the work, but it’s the context within the work…whether or not it’s shoved into a corner that has a bad floorboard on it…something like that. So those are qualities that are negative, but the fact of the matter is that more people will see, say, Basel Switzerland or Basel Miami than they will this show, and that’s challenging, to say the least.
Do you see fashion glomming onto the art world? Basel Miami has basically turned into a party scene.
I have to say that I don’t know the last time I actually went to an art fair. I mean, I’m in New York for a week, but I know goddamn well I’m not going to Frieze. I would love to if they would let me in with, like, five other people. But I don’t actually like seeing art in that scenario because it really is social—extremely social, and it kind of waters down the experience of what it is that you’re standing in front of. I’m sure for other people that’s a nice thing, to see art at a party, but I typically don’t—unless I absolutely have. I don’t do it.
Sunrise Sunset—does that refer to the fall of empires?
I think that Sunrise Sunset is a title that’s super-open. And I kind of like that. It could easily refer to the fall and rise of an entire empire. It could be a bookend. It could be my entire autobiographical archaeology of my day-to-day existence. I drive off the mountain into the city at sunrise. I drive out of the city, up to the mountain at sunset. I have at least an hour, an hour and a half in the car where there’s nothing but contemplation of what it is that I’m doing. And that again just seemed perfect for a show like this. It’s sort of a mixed bag. It is this rise and fall of the contemplation of what it is that I’m actually working on.
Photo: TROUGH (4837); 2014; Bronze; 133.985 x 110.49 x 233.68 cm / 52 3/4 x 43 1/2 x 92 in
There seems to be a very domestic reference in this show. Can you speak a little bit about that and how it’s crept into your work?
The stove in and of itself—I think that I initially started making these stoves on a much smaller scale, and there were two reasons: I grew up on a farm until I was 18, and our entire source of heating for the house was always the wood-burning stove, so at a certain age I was bound to the chores of chopping wood, stacking wood, and starting and maintaining a fire. In ceramics, I started to think specifically about the truncation of things within the stove. What does the fire mean? What is the alchemy of it? And so I really wanted to make my own stove. We started importing these cast-iron stoves that were similar to the ones that my parents had on the farm, and we were burning scrap lumber, we were burning all of our documents, doing all of these things in the studio. After a while I realized that I wanted to make my own. I didn’t want to rely on other people’s cast-iron stoves, so we started making really small ones just out of cardboard and then casting them. And then I realized I wanted to make a monument to that. So this one is, in particular, a large-scale, fully operational stove.
The large fabric pieces of the flag, the fabric paintings, and fabric collages are really based on quilts. I’ve always been somewhat obsessed…they were one of my early visuals, because we lived so close to Lancaster and I had a lot of friends who were Amish. I saw quilts before I saw any sort of Pop art or geometric art. Over time, I really started to like Japanese boro textiles, which are a kind of transformation from the utilitarian to the aesthetic. With boro textiles, when your clothing gets too worn out from working too hard, you turn it into a quilt or a tapestry. It’s this exchange between something that was once used as clothing for something that is looked at as an aesthetic. And I’m doing the exact opposite—we tend to dye, bleach, and paint fabric canvas in the studio almost every day. Then I hand the scraps to my patternmaker and I have her make clothing. I think in many ways I like the universalness of not only formalism but also recognizable icons of use, value, and associations. I like that. Not everything has to be a complete abstract.
Photo: FLAG (4791); 2014; Bleached and dyed canvas and elastic; 431.8 x 675.6 cm / 170 x 266 in
Is bleaching for you about creating an absence, or is it about putting something onto fabric?
I think of bleach in both of those terms. I like the deduction of bleach—I like that it’s not an additive, it’s a negative. And that’s something Raf [Simons] and I have talked about at length. Also, bleaching is a destructive process, so you’re riding an extremely fine line of things being broken down and deconstructed. Sometimes the pieces get completely chewed through, and other times we time it just right so that we get these really beautiful washes that are almost like photographic processes that turn into negatives.
Has working with Raf informed your practice in other ways?
I think the project with Raf has confirmed the idea of not following an allegiance to hierarchies within art. Why should making clothing be anything better or worse than making a painting? I understand from the art community why there are differentiations between [those], but I think both Raf and I are huge fans of the idea of working within a Bauhaus mentality, one that has no barriers within genres.
Photo: The Cup (4791); 2013; Foam, urethane, wood and spray paint; 233.7 x 293.4 x 223.5 cm / 92 x 115 1/2 x 88 in
You seem to be able to really draw out the plasticity in everything you work with. What is your approach when you’re bringing a new medium into your practice?
I think a lot of the time it’s already there. Maybe it was something that evolved out of another body of work, or something that was kind of trial and error with something previously. Most of the time that’s how it happens. It’s like working on something that is determined already and trying to work with that, and maybe failure of working with that turns into an entire other body, that the material jumps from one to the other. And then sometimes it’s really a matter of looking at it from a different perspective; that there exists something that’s made out of a certain material that is either functional or already exists, but I kind of like the tonality of it or the meaning of it.
Your pieces are obviously very spatial. Is it challenging to create these in your studio and conceive of how it’s going to exist in a gallery setting?
That’s always the hardest thing. I enjoy the installation process, but I’m not a very good preplanner, and I know some artists work off of a diagram, but that never works for me. I need to be in this phase to see the sights and see the crescendos, to see the breathing room between works. The ceiling here in the 18th Street space is considerably difficult because it’s almost like having a train track or a bridge above you. Even though we made a diagram on a computer and tried to plan, it just never works. It doesn’t work. You can’t do it. For a show like this, it makes me anxious to bring everything in and think that maybe we’ll edit half of it out. We don’t really know. I have to give credit to my gallery for this, because I think it’s a leap of faith to let an artist show all of his work. Maybe three pieces are going to go in. I don’t know until we actually start moving things around. But for me it’s a super-special challenge to get everything in and start to look at it—the demographics of viewing things both on the wall and in the space.
Your work looks at institutions and at the same time a lack thereof, with punk influences. How do you think those forces end up playing out?
I don’t always like making something that’s so didactic that it takes one side or the other. What I like the most is when a piece comes together and it alludes to this scenario of self-reflexive acknowledgment of the negative. I think that the pieces, for a lot of people, are very American. They’re very male. But at the same time, I would hope that you could read the self-reflexivity and criticism of that in the scale and you don’t have tropes or colors or the masculinity of it. I don’t think there’s always proportion to such a degree that it’s reveling. Sometimes it’s reveling in the negative of it.
Photos: © Sterling Ruby; Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Robert Wedemeyer
Pass Notes: Sterling Ruby
Violet Hudson gives us the lowdown on fashion’s favourite artist Sterling Ruby.
Who is Sterling Ruby?
If you have been paying attention to the fashion merry-go-round, you will have already seen some of Sterling Ruby’s designs. He collaborated on a punky, collage-inspired menswear AW14 collection with Raf Simons, shown in Paris last week. But Ruby isn’t actually a clothes designer; he’s an exciting young artist of international renown.
Who is he?
A German-born artist who currently lives and works in LA.
What’s his stuff like?
Good question. Ruby doesn’t confine himself to one medium. His work has spanned many oeuvres of art, from canvases and collages to ceramics and ‘nail varnish drawings’. He works in sculpture and in textiles. Immensely versatile, there is no signature Sterling Ruby style – although there are unifying themes if you look carefully enough.
So…how would I recognise one of his pieces?
They share the same punk aesthetic, and are all influenced by societal issues. Ruby has cited schizophrenia as an inspiration, as well as gang warfare, cults and maximum security prisons.
Is he mentally stable?
He is sane, but wildly creative (if those attributes aren’t mutually exclusive).
Tell me more…
He was born on an American military base in Bitburg, Germany. He’s a bright spark: Joyce Carol Oates’ novels are a big influence, and he finds creative stimulation in everything from fascist architecture to LA graffiti.
Who likes him?
The New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, has called him one of the most interesting contemporary artists around. The Guggenheim, MoMA, Tate and Raf Simons are all collectors.
Where can I see his work?
Apart from his work in permanent gallery collections, Ruby has created a public sculpture in Portugal. As for exhibitions, you’ll have to pop over to NY to see him this year. He’s showing at Hauser & Wirth from 9 May – 25 July. See hauserwirth.com for more details.
Installation view, ‘EXHM’, Hauser & Wirth London, England, 2013 © Sterling Ruby / Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth / Photo: Alex Delfanne
© Sterling Ruby / Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth /Photo: Robert Wedemeyer
January 7th, 2014
Artist: Sterling Ruby
Venue: Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle
Exhibition Title: Droppa Blocka
Date: October 27, 2013 – January 14, 2014
Click here to view slideshow
Full gallery of images, press release and link available after the jump.
Images courtesy of Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle
Sterling Ruby (b. 1972 Germany, lives and works in Los Angeles, U.S.A.) is a multidisciplinary artist who became renowned for his large glassy ceramic sculptures and abstract paintings. His paintings are reminiscent of dark interpretations of the Colour Field Paintings from the sixties. His work can as well refer to classic architecture and modern Minimalism, but also to marginality, vandalism and power structures. His exceptional use of materials and his ability to develop a particularly powerful visual language makes Sterling Ruby one of the most important artists of the beginning of the twenty-first century. At the museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Sterling Ruby creates a complete project for the large patio and the garden.
On December 15th Bonniers Konsthall opens the first large solo exhibition for the Los Angeles based artist Sterling Ruby in Scandinavia. Sterling Ruby, whose been named one of the 2000s most interesting artists, works in a mixture of materials and genres, from glazed biomorphic ceramics to drawings in nail varnish. He takes his subject matter from a wide range of sources, including maximum security prisons, urban gangs, modernist architecture, and the mechanisms of warfare. His works can be seen as a form of assault on both materials and social power structures.
The universe of Soft Work is by first look playful, soft and humorous but will soon reveal a dimensions of fear or terror. The artist transforms pillows, blankets, and quilts from objects of comfort into ominous sculptural objects that hint at the possibility that safety and security are an illusion. Here the American flag is used as material in gigantic vampire mouths and obese stuffed animals hangs from the roof like macerated cadavers.
The exhibition is organized in association with Centre d’Art Contemporain, Genéva, FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims and MACRO, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome,
Wed 9 Jan, The Cool School by Morgan Neville
The Cool School is an abject lesson in how to build an art scene from scratch and what to avoid in the process. The film focuses on the seminal Ferus Gallery, which groomed the LA art scene from a loose gang of idealistic beatniks into a circuit of competitive, often brilliant artists, including Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Wallace Berman, Ed Moses and Robert Irwin.
Wed 23 Jan, Surfer Aesthetics. Liv Stoltz on LA art scene
Los Angeles is home to not only iconic artist names, but also an emerging young artist scene. In this lecture, curator Liv Stoltz talks about the younger generation that she had the opportunity to meet in Los Angeles when curating the exhibition LA Trash & Treasure at Milliken, 2006 – one of whom was Sterling Ruby.
Wed 6 Feb, Graffiti and the established art scene
Graffiti and street art and its characteristic expression has long inspired artists working in the institutional art scene. What happens when the terms change contexts? Jacob Kimvall, a doctor of art history and author of Zero Tolerance – The fight against graffiti
in conversation with gallery owners Jonas Kleerup and Jeanette Steinsland, representing a new generation of street art inspired artists.
Jacob Kimvall is an art historian and writer. He is currently a PhD student in art history at Stockholm University and working on a thesis focusing on street art, and among other things, investigating the interplay between art institutions and street art. Kimvall himself has a background in graffiti art, and in 1992 co-founded the international graffiti periodical Underground Productions.
Jeanette Steinsland is a curator and head of the gallery Steinsland Berliner which opened in 2008. She was the first to exhibit the street artist Banksy in Stockholm and today her gallery organizes street art walks. Jeanette is currently working on an exhibition at Bomuldsfabriken in Arendal, Norway.
Jonas Kleerup is a gallerist and head of Gallery Kleerup in Stockholm. Since opening in 2006, Gallery Kleerup has represented several artists inspired by street art. Jonas also runs the project Villa Contemporary Art.
Wed 20 Feb, Jörg Heiser: Who is Sterling Ruby?
Jörg Heiser, co-editor of Frieze Magazine and co-publisher of Frieze d/e, and one of the most influential names in contemporary art criticism, gives a presentation of Sterling Ruby, putting his practice into a broader context where both Ruby’s sources of inspiration, such as minimalism, Mike Kelley and brutalistic architecture, and Ruby’s later ”softer” works are discussed.
Jörg Heiser is co-editor of frieze magazine, co-publisher of frieze d/e, and writes for the national daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. He is a visiting professor at Kunstuniversität Linz, and teaches at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg. His book All of a Sudden: Things that Matter in Contemporary Art (Sternberg Press) was published in 2008, and he co-edited (with Eva Grubinger) the volume Sculpture Unlimited (Sternberg Press 2011). Heiser curated the exhibition “Romantic Conceptualism” (2007, Kunsthalle Nürnberg, BAWAG Foundation Vienna). He lives in Berlin.
Wed 27 Feb, Does material play a role in artists’ practices today?
This seminar focuses on sculptural materials and asks questions surrounding what materiality can be seen as today. What information
is inherent in contemporary artists’ material choice and which shifts have influenced sculptural processes. Three artists working in three-dimensional fields discuss their view of sculpture today. Confirmed participants are Zandra Ahl and Olav Westphalen.
Zandra Ahl is a artisan and professor at Konstfack in Stockholm. Her work has often focused on taste, class and power. In her practice, she has produced and curated exhibitions, organized talks and seminars, and worked with the fanzine Slicker. She also made the documentary short film “National Museum and I” (2008). This year Nilleditions re-issued Zandra and Emma Olsson’s “Swedish Taste” (2001), and in October she will open “Family Outlet” at Gustavsbetgs art gallery.
Olav Westphalen is an artist and professor of Fine Art at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, specializing in the performative characteristics of art.
Wed 6 Mar,
Soft Work according Kakan Hermansson
CANCELLED DUE TO ILLNESS
Karin ”Kakan” Hermansson, Swedish artist, tv personality, DJ and club organizer, makes a more personal tour of the exhibition. As an artist, Kakan Hermansson works with questions surrounding gender, class and sexuality. She has arranged such events as the nail-art salon Girls Club in both clubs and in the art world.
Wed 13 th Mar. Florence Derieux on Soft Work
Florence Derieux is a French art historian and curator. Since 2008 she has been director of the FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, reims where she curated the previous Soft Work exhibition and initiated the basic idea of the tour.
All is subject to change. Limited number of seats. 80 kr; 60 kr for students and pensioners. Free for members and everyone under 18 years. Get your ticket from 11 am the same day at the Konsthall reception desk.
TIME OUT LONDON
Sterling Ruby: EXHM
Installation view of Sterling Ruby at Hauser & Wirth, 2013. http://www.DELFANNE.com
Time Out says
Posted: Wed Apr 3 2013
Drip-spattered dirty monumental effigies to America dominate Sterling Ruby’s first show with Hauser & Wirth. However, the Los Angeles-based artist isn’t paying homage to the land of the free; rather, he’s exposing his misgivings.
Enormous urethane sculptures are displayed alongside debris-encrusted collages. Akin to stalagmites and missile weaponry, the floor pieces derive a corporeal quality from the poured red, white and blue pigments that run, sweat-like, down their surfaces. These glistening forms are branded with their own titles, ‘We Luv Strugglin’, ‘The Pot is Hot’, and ‘Drag On’, honouring the protest slogan. Ruby also uses acronyms to reference the very government agencies he’s questioning, most blatantly in ‘CDCR’ – California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations.
There are odes to American craft in his quilt-like soft fabric sculptures. ‘Pile (4129)’ slouches on the floor, its stars and stripes material oozing red droplets, while the bulbous form of ‘Husbands + Drops (4133)’ hangs from th gallery ceiling like a disemboweled cuddly toy.
If only the exhibition’s slick production had taken on more of the works grungy poetics, Ruby would be as much of a superpower as the organisations he’s poking at.
Sterling Ruby installation view of MOCA Focus: Sterling Ruby, SUPERMAX 2008 2008 photo by Brian Forrest
September 22, 2011
Sterling Ruby and Lucio Fontana
By KEN JOHNSON NYTimes
525 West 24th Street, Chelsea
Through Oct. 15
Pairing Sterling Ruby and Lucio Fontana is an inspired idea. Fontana (1899-1968) was the Italian avant-gardist known for cutting neat, graceful slices into his own monochrome paintings. He violated sheets of copper, too, leaving them bent, scratched and ragged along the edges of the incisions. Three examples from 1962 are included here. Less well known and compelling in a different way are his ceramics: pedestal-size, expressionist sculptures of vigorously worked and beautifully glazed clay. In two representations of the Crucifixion from the 1950s the literally torn and gouged clay and the figuratively tortured flesh of Jesus become one.
Mr. Ruby, who was born in 1972 and lives in Los Angeles, toys freely with multiple styles. He has the attitude of a grunge rocker with a head full of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. A big, bracingly ugly bronze sculpture resembles part of a subterranean archaeological dig. Displayed on pedestals, flat-bottomed, crudely hand-molded clay basins contain broken pieces of other basins and pours of brightly colored glazes that resemble toxic chemicals and tarry sludge. Large, framed collages are mainly made from pieces of stained and splattered cardboard that appear to have been used initially as studio floor covers.
Fontana and Mr. Ruby share a mission to uncover violent psychic depths that genteel idealism covers up. Yet in so doing, both exercise acute conceptual and aesthetic sophistication. (Mr. Ruby might be the love child of the artists and university professors Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley.) They are mandarins masquerading as barbarians in the wishful service of convulsive beauty.
Full color illustrations
Paperback, 152 pages, English
Introduction by Jeremy Strick
Cataogue essays by Sarah Conaway, Erik Frydenborg, and Philip Kaiser
Published by The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, 2008
Sterling Ruby is now at the top of the LA artworld. The Wall Street Journal recently said Ruby is the number one artist who will enter art history.
- 7 Dec 2012
- The Wall Street Journal Asia
40, lives in Los Angeles
Gestures of apocalyptic angst. Mr. Ruby is a pro at toggling several gritty series of artworks that collectively chronicle what he calls his “generation’s unrest”—from ceramic bowls that evoke ancient dig sites to drippy fang-toothed “Vampire” sculptures to neon graffiti-style paintings. At a time when some art schools still preach cerebral conceptualism, Mr. Ruby’s eagerness to get messy makes him look like a maverick. When it comes to coveted artists, London collector Tiqui Atencio says this artist is “first on everyone’s list.”
Apr 5, 2010
Sterling Ruby’s three dimensional structures engage with traditional considerations of sculpture being inherently relative to the human body: things which occupy real space (rather than painting’s illusionary space) are experienced physically. Measured against minimalism’s hallowed purity of the object, where form is asserted on a conceptual level, Ruby’s Kiss Trap Kismet is a radical convergence of the sublime and abject. Presented as a towering arch, Kiss Trap Kismet poses object as organism – primal, totemic, exuding a raw, animal power in its visceral aesthetic. Mounted on a graffitied plinth, Ruby’s sculpture teeters between instinctive revulsion and stounding beauty, drawing reference to contemporary ritual, aggression, and urban experience.
By ROBERTA SMITH, KEN JOHNSON and KAREN ROSENBERG
Published: March 21, 2008
Sterling Ruby and Metro Pictures
“Bread Basket,” a sculpture from 2007 by Sterling Ruby.
The Drawing Center
Sterling Ruby is one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century. That’s only eight years, of course, but the claim may stick. He makes obstreperous, richly glazed ceramic vessels that suggest charred remains; totemic sculptures webbed with mucousy, macramélike drips of resin; large, dark collages dotted with constellations of tiny images of artifacts; and drawings, photographs and short videos.Mr. Ruby draws from ancient art, graffiti, sports, science fiction and the persistence of primitivism on all fronts. Minimalism and other forms of authority are frequent targets. Most important, he situates all this in a continuum of material, process, history and emotion.
Mr. Ruby, who lives in Los Angeles, stormed New York last spring with an inchoate two-gallery show at Metro Pictures and Foxy Production. “Superoverpass,” a big white Formica arch à la Tony Smith — expertly finished but grimy and incised with graffiti — turned Foxy into an eerie mausoleum. Metro displayed the drawings, several increasingly phallic totems and a large ceramic mortar with pestles swimming in glaze. It all fulfilled the battle cry of his most widely quoted anti-poster: “Finish Architecture. Kill Minimalism. Long Live the Amorphous Law.”
Now Mr. Ruby is back with a pair of slightly quieter, clarifying exhibitions. The Metro show is his first devoted entirely to ceramics, a medium he took up about 10 years ago, evolving an innovative, violent variation of “hand built” that suggests post-Schnabel Peter Voulkos. The 14 works straddle the line between decoration and tragedy. Some suggest votive objects adorned with misshapen amphora handles. Several contain small bowls, as if you were supposed to scoop up their bright, slurred glazes. “Bread Basket,” splattered with shiny oranges, black and blues and a crusty white, resembles a child’s car seat or a football helmet after some cataclysm.
At the Drawing Center Mr. Ruby has filled the small gallery with drawings, collages and photographs, as well as two enormous, Formica-covered, benchlike monoliths whose incisions include “cop” in enormous letters. Here glaze is replaced by red nail polish on paper, and the artist’s vessels are primarily tattoo-covered bodies seen in photographs.
Exposition Sterling Ruby / frac champagne-ardenne
REIMS — ”Soft Work,” Sterling Ruby’s initial solo uncover in France, non-stop final week during a Champagne-Ardenne FRAC in Reims. It focuses on several new pieces in an garb initial recognised in 2005, and outlines a depart for a artist, who formerly worked essentially with some-more plain materials. Here, as a pretension indicates, density predominates by a use of pressed fabric — though a ideas are hard-hitting.
The muster was curated by FRAC executive Florence Derieux — a opposite chronicle of it was presented during a Geneva Contemporary Art Center progressing this year. It includes works imitative vampire mouths that hang from a rafters, red drizzling from their teeth like cushy metaphors for consumerism. The array “Husband Child” consists of beanbags made like bum and was desirous by a beanbag chairs found in standard American TV bedrooms of a 1980s. Other pieces are some-more vertical, like a set of thin, intertwined sausages that remember a bars of a prison. “This era of artists, generally in a United States though not customarily there, has stopped desiring in this antithesis between condensation and formalism,” Derieux told ARTINFO France. “There is a arrange of reusing of these strategies.”
The sculptures in “Soft Work” — that is on perspective by Aug 26 — have been sewn with several pressed and colorful fabrics, some of that are recycled, while others were purchased. Certain pieces are lonesome with dripped paint à la Jackson Pollock, while others underline tangible patterns, like a American flag. At initial peek a designation is fun and humorous — a large cushiony playground. But there’s unequivocally zero so soothing about this show; a meditative is utterly radical. Erotic though not vulgar, domestic though peaceful, a designation touches on 4 vital subjects: a United States, feminism, mercantile liberalism, and a penal system.
“‘Soft Work’ is customarily a terse term. It’s not hard, it’s not solid, it’s malleable,” Ruby told ARTINFO France. “This tenure refers to what a designation is. It’s a fiber sculpture though it’s also in anxiety to several centuries of art regulating textiles, to art therapy, and to feminism, especially. In America, there is a domesticity that is not compared with masculinity — or if it is, it’s customarily compared with a difference, a contradiction.” Ruby, who complicated French speculation in college, cites a incluence of Foucault‘s papers on a penal system, heterotopias or spaces on a margins of society, passionate norms, domesticity, and governmental constraints on a individual.
Born in 1972 to a Dutch mom and an American father, Ruby chose to work in Los Angeles, where he was an partner to a late Mike Kelley, who became a tighten friend. Derieux pronounced that some of a works are an loyalty to Kelley, who committed self-murder progressing this year. “The star of ‘Husband Child’ is utterly tighten to that of Mike Kelley,” she said. “Why certain practices, certain tellurian activities are ascribed to women, for example, sewing, etc. — they had talked about this a lot.”
a conversation with sterling ruby
Berlin rents might be going up, but Berliners still root for gritty ideological integrity in art. Sprüth Magers’s decision to present Sterling Ruby‘s I Am Not Free Because I Can Be Exploded Anytime during Gallery Weekend exemplifies that commitment.
Ruby is a Los Angeles-based artist working primarily with large-scale ceramics, spray-painted canvases, poured urethane sculptures and collages. He was born in Bitburg, Germany but grew up in Baltimore and suburban Pennsylvania. His background includes a degree in agriculture and experience in construction, which he applies to the massive proportions of his physically intimidating sculptures. A sense of being overwhelmed and even threatened activates his art, which largely addresses America’s methods of containment, restraint, restriction and punishment. Supermax, his 2008 exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, which evoked the feeling of being incarcerated, is the foundation for his solo show at Sprüth Magers. Here, he focuses on America’s insidious paranoia—and its use and abuse by the American government.
Ana Finel Honigman: How do you define and value freedom?
Sterling Ruby: To me, personally, freedom is always about being able to set up my own parameters and to have a private space in order to work through them. I definitely don’t see myself as an anarchist, but coming up against external limitations is where the definition of freedom becomes less abstract. Being able to work the way I do, as an artist, seems like freedom… for sure.
AFH: On ideological, not just petty logistical levels, how does America’s obsession with terrorist threats limit our profound freedom?
SR: America’s obsession with terrorism, in general, is a scapegoat for its own self-importance. What I mean is that our paranoia regarding terrorism is used to give primacy to the ideologies of America ahead of other countries. This kind of U.S. righteousness holds countries of “difference” into account for not being similar to us. We also have a real predisposition to equate fighting with freedom, which creates a situation where conflict and liberation go hand in hand with one another.
AFH: What were the circumstances when you first encountered the collaboration between Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink?
SR: I first saw these works in Munich at Sprüth Magers. Philomene Magers introduced me to this collaboration between Holzer and Pink, and I immediately fell in love with the series. Holzer is one of my all-time favourites, but her works are so clinical and polished. The Lady Pink graffiti images accompanied by Holzer’s stenciled texts seemed much dirtier, less finished, almost illicit.
AFH: Does RWB (Red, White, Blue) also involve England, France and other countries with these colours dominant in their flag? Is this show essentially referencing America, or the West in general?
RS: I suppose it could be seen as reference to those other countries, but in this instance it is an autobiographical take on being an American and associating that colour combination with American power.
For most of my youth I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and quite often I would see shirts, bumper stickers and posters that read “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN.” This slogan perfectly illustrates the symbolic attachment of Americans to the colours of the flag, and again there is that implied readiness to fight . . . it has always stayed with me.
AFH: What is your ideal for government involvement in citizens’ lives?
SR: Stay out—stay out and let us crash if we need to. I suppose that’s not a real answer. My ideal for the American government is for it to allocate more funding and tax revenue towards mental and physical health, change the drug laws, raise education levels, revise prison and correctional standards, and reverse its continued escalation of funding for the military industrial complex. But this is difficult, we are such a large and diverse country, and we have come to be seen as the peacekeeper for the world, which is very schizophrenic. You know. It often seems impossible to make this kind of change in the trajectory that we have had for so many years—we’re fucked.
AFH: How have Robert Morris, Rosemarie Trockel, Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink influenced your work and world view?
SR: That’s difficult to sum up and even more difficult to give credit where credit is due. Morris defied Judd’s Minimalism by making it psychological, physical, theatrical and personal. Trockel’s work has been very important to me, she seems like the logical figure to continue the Beuys trajectory of alchemy—political, formal and healing processes of actual art making. Holzer is militant, she is unforgiving in her subject matter and I admire that a lot. Lady Pink is the exception here, I was interested in her work because of her use of spray-paint and her themes of sexuality, which you don’t see very often in graffiti. I’ve been influenced by urban environments for a while, particularly since I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago. This is not street art in particular, but more street expression, what happens in the streets as survival adaptation. Lady Pink is an anomaly to what is happening now in “formal” street art. I don’t know what she’s been up to recently, but I quite like this set of collaborative work from the 80s.
AFH: What attracts you to Minimalism?
SR: My first real introduction to Minimalism was in grad school at Art Center, primarily through Donald Judd’s writing, which seemed hierarchical. I understood Judd’s interest in laying out the initial discourse, which was a foundation of simple industrialised objects or sculptures with no personality. Objects that were realised without the actual hand of intervention, this was also similar to Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood. Judd seemed to be responding negatively to Abstract Expressionism.
I started to think about simple minimalist forms in urban environments and how often I saw them demarcated, as a kind of existential “tagging”—you know, citizens trying to gain footing and legacy by placing their name on something with object presence… within their own community. Of course in Los Angeles this was primarily a gang-initiated activity—claiming that a certain territory belonged to you. For me it seemed to be similar to Judd’s possessive strategy 30 years prior. It is all about territory.
AFH: How does Berlin compare to L.A.?
SR: I’m not sure, I suppose that they are both inexpensive and somewhat sprawling. They both seem like easy artist cities. Germany seems to have a similar artist and education connection to Los Angeles—artists still teach.
AFH: How do you respond to common anti-Americanism in Europe?
SR: I completely understand it. I was born in Bitburg, Germany. My mother was from Eindhoven, Netherlands, and I still have a big “Dutch” family there that I visit frequently. I’m quite aware of the hostility that America seems to disseminate. I get it.
AFH: How does paranoia in America manifest differently from elsewhere?
SR: Well, we’re crazy—we worry about everything. There is such a tension between wanting freedom and wanting protection. We are true historical schizophrenics. Paranoia and fear serve to legitimise our actions in regard to what we produce both politically as well as culturally. I suppose that it is a good time for me to say that I wouldn’t want it any other way. I like the push and pull effect that America has had on me—it is true contemporary existentialism.
AFH: What makes political art successful?
SR: Political art only seems to be successful when it has no bias or hides its bias. I suppose that most art has an agenda, but quite frankly I don’t like art that preaches as much as I like art that calmly reveals circumstances or societal problems that most individuals ignore.
by Ana Finel Honigman
FALSE POSITIVE PROPHETSThe False Positive Prophets will bring light to the fact that we cannot continue in the ways that we have in the past. The False Positive Prophets will foretell of the final outcome, and herald an end to the continuum. The False Positive Prophets will cut through all cynicism, ironic contemporary endeavors and meaningless gestures to shed light on how truly fucked we are. Achieving these states will require psychotic-like divination.VISIONARY SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCESeveral diagnostic categories have been proposed for the term, psychotic-like divination, which have the potential for false-positive outcomes. Two of the most promising categories, from recent studies and limited control groups, are problem-solving schizophrenia and positive disintegration. In direct contrast to contemporary mainstream psychology, psychotic-like divination sees “disturbed” or “harmful states” (tension, anxiety, depression, psychosis et al.) as necessary conditions and conduits for growth. Further categories will include creative illness, spiritual emergencies, mystical-experience with psychotic features, metanoiac voyages and visionary states. The term Visionary Spiritual Experience from a False Positive Prophet or “VSE from FPP” is used to describe how, through the guidance of such an instructor, one can achieve these states. For the purposes of this study, the term visionary is used as it is in anthropological and religious studies to refer to a person whose mental condition leads that individual to see things more clearly than the general population and to propose radical changes for the entire society. Such visionary experiences are more likely to occur in societies undergoing rapid and devastating social change like the United States of fucking America.DEVASTATES
te, dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, (see also: United·dev·a·States)
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the overwhelming amount of apocalyptic information.PROBLEM-SOLVING SCHIZOPHRENIA: A CASE STUDYThe Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow just won the 2010 Oscar award for “Best Picture”. This says something about what is going on today, here and now, but maybe not what you might be thinking. Actor Jeremy Renner plays Staff Sergeant William James. James is an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) sergeant who gets stationed as the team leader in the U.S. Army’s Bravo Company during their last month in Baghdad, Iraq. James has a deep addiction to the risk that this job entails; he has a reckless demeanor when dismantling bombs, and he continuously places his company in jeopardy while out in the field. He plays ARMA HD military simulation games while off duty. James finishes his tour of duty and returns to his wife and infant son in America. Within this domestic situation, he is uninterested, alien, and absent. He quickly requests to serve yet another year of duty in Iraq.Many film critics have praised The Hurt Locker for its accurate portrayal of contemporary warfare. The complexities and uncertainties of this film, stirred a contemplative debate regarding what side we are on, if any. But the fact is, that James doesn’t seem to be particularly patriotic, or even loyal to his task or company; instead he seems to be a pure product of his symbiotic relationship with the bombs he is dismantling. He does not exist without this relationship. Without a war zone, without an enemy, without an apparatus to disengage, he does not exist. He is a case study for contemporary schizophrenia, or Problem-Solving Schizophrenia (PSS), created by a zone of habituated risk.SUPERMAXI was born in Germany to an American father and a Dutch mother. I was raised in rural Pennsylvania, but would visit my mother’s family in the Netherlands. So, I am a citizen of the United States of America, but with a bit of a remote perspective. America revels in a kind of cultural slumming; we identify with bad behavior more than any other country. America wants to be seen as a force for good across the world. To maintain this delusion, America must keep its darkness hidden and contained. At the same time, it is almost expected for an American to have the need to consume violence, as if it were a kind of longing.The Supermax is a prison constructed to be on permanent lockdown, prisoners are kept in solitary confinement, and often under sensory deprivation. American citizens are kept in homes watching television shows like MSNBC’s Lockup, where we see what it is like on “the inside.” This is interesting because, usually, one wants to be on the inside, and the outside is the bad place. The Supermax as an allegory of contemporary American society is like a beacon of the end. I look at Supermax as the closest thing I can imagine to hell.TRAUMA THEORYRobert J. Lifton and Dominick LaCapra are two authors who have considered at length a kind of “trauma theory” by means of psycho-historical studies. Robert J. Lifton is an expert on cults and thought reform. He has identified recent generations as embodying an attitude of apocalyptic uncertainty. Dominick LaCapra wrote two books, History and Memory After Auschwitz and Writing History, Writing Trauma that examine how societal violations throughout history have launched a kind of aftermath in which the dominant society became confused about who it was or who it thought it should be. They trace this trauma through multiple generations, and expound on how history has become a kind of baggage or burden for us. This baggage impedes the growth of the society, and as the timeline of history gets bigger, so does each generation’s burden. We feel ashamed of the atrocities committed in the past, but continue to commit equal atrocities in the present and look to the future with extreme apprehension and anxiety. We see no possibility of a correction, just a continuation and a continuum. We perceive ourselves universally as both victims and perpetrators and this burden will only get heavier as time goes on.BASIN THEOLOGYI collect catalogs and books, published by private and museum collections, of knives and ceramic pottery, objects from a dirty, functional past that are now being preserved in a sterilized refuge. These objects, in a sense, have been separated from their use-value. They are remnants, signs and memories of a previous utilitarian life. It is as if these knives and vessels have been removed from one functional world and placed into another kind of world, one that worships primal significance. Which I suppose means that these pieces still have a use-value, just a different kind.I have been making large ceramic basins and filling them with broken materials that look like animal remains and architectural waste. I am smashing all of my previous attempts, and futile, contemporary gestures, and placing them into a mortar, and grinding them down with a blunt pestle. I am doing this as a way of releasing a certain guilt. If I put all of these remnants into a basin, and it gets taken away from me, then I am no longer responsible for all my misdirected efforts. I will no longer have to be burdened with the heaviness of this realization. This is my basin theology. (Visionary Spiritual Experience from Vessels and Containers/VSE-VC)THE OUTSIDER AND THE DEEP SAD PITOur generation and those who come after are going to have to redefine our relationship to “the outsider”. This is not because we will reconsider our relationship to those who we perceive to be different, oppositional, or marginal, but because we will be lamenting the loss of our belief in “the inside”. When history and conditioning disallow this generation to feel autonomous, then inevitably we will feel as though we have lost control over that autonomy. The idea- -that this generation’s particular beliefs and actions are innate and unique to its identity –will inevitably become trumped by the weight of historical precedence. This will be our burden and our baggage. The product of this final reckoning will be the Deep Sad Pit.A NEW GENERATIONYoung contemporary art, particularly in the US has become abstract and formal as if in direct opposition of 90’s post-modernist and post-conceptualist terms. This return to abstract expressions and formalism is a response to the Deep Sad Pit. This new formalism brings us out of the Deep Sad Pit and into a New Era. This new formalism will heal our current state of confusion, and our lamentations about what to do next. This new formalism is a sign of our disengagement. This new formalism is a cheap and lazy cry for attention. Are we embarrassed by our abstract expression? Do we find comfort in its excess and effortlessness. This new formalism is a False Positive Prophet that will lead to a Visionary Spiritual Experience. The new curriculum will enforce the reading of “The Spiritual In Art: Abstract Painting” in opposition to “Relational Aesthetics”. Our teachers told us that this was not possible. They said that too much was destroyed, that too much was known. But this is our generation’s burden to discover. It is our burden, it is our formalism, it is our New Era.Sterling Ruby 2010
Submitted by Wayne on Mon, 2011-10-31 22:24.
American artist Sterling Ruby’s first solo exhibition in China
“In this exhibition the artist is exploring the idea of the vampire as a way of reassessing the uncontrollable and insatiable drives that inform the darker aspects of human behavior.
Submitted by Wayne
on Thu, 2010-02-25 22:59.
“These works bring what Michael Fried forty years ago called the theatricality of Minimalist sculpture to a gruesome point.” AF
Submitted by Wayne on Mon, 2008-10-20 21:00.
Raf Simons’ Tokyo store “remixed” by artist Sterling Ruby Image via kultureflash
Sterling Ruby’s Ashtrays
October 8 – November 6, 2010
October 7, 18.00 – 21.00
15, Rue des Minimes
The Pierre Marie Giraud gallery organizes regularly “solo shows” of the most significant figures in contemporary ceramics. From october 7th to november 6th, the gallery will feature for the first time artist Sterling Ruby, internationally known for the large variety of media and techniques he uses. The artist will present “Ashtrays,” an intriguing series of colorful and unusually shaped ceramics.
Born in 1972, Sterling Ruby lives and works in Los Angeles. His creations are very much sought after by American and European collectors and noted by arts critics at exhibitions in New York, London, Miami, Cologne and Paris. At the last Paris FIAC, his productions were endlessly astonishing in the very diverse directions he explored in order to deconstruct the norms and assert his own freedom of creative thought.
Sterling Ruby is well known for his propensity to confront all and any power or social pressure mechanism, including the major institutional art forms. Social transgression, devious attitudes, delusion, paranoia, repressed libido, are so many subjects “constellating his work.”
The creative act, for him, asserts the individual, and lets him break away from well mannered shackles, by distorting the use of media.
Created in 2010, Ruby Sterling’s ceramic “Ashtrays” explore the traditional language of design, art brut and minimalism: we are delivered unidentifiable work, bearing the intrinsic stamp of an art that is timeless and oblivious of fashion.
At the occasion of the exhibition a catalogue will be published.
Sterling Ruby Zen Ripper
The first time I had the chance to see Sterling Ruby’s work was two years ago at Emi Fontana’s gallery historically located at the address Via Bligly 42 in Milano: the show was composed of black and white pictures based on the torsos of female body builders and candles as well as totemic, dark and vaguely anthropomorphic, sculptures recalling the dripping of the lit candles. “Recombines” – that was the name of the 2006 exhibition – suggested an interest in both the imposing and the elusive.
The same can be said of “Zen Ripper”: the gallery is invaded with big, geometric sculptures made of formica sprayed with colourful textures and, now and then, cut with symbols and phrases as the ones that can be found on trees or park benches made by teenagers who want to leave a mark of their presence. There is a sharp contrast between the sculptures which seem to come from the minimalist tradition of neat and geometric shapes and the almost camouflage-like painting that disorients the viewer visiting the labyrinthic installation.
“Zen Ripper” opened in parallel with another exhibition of the Los Angeles based artist in the area: “Grid Ripper” held at Bergamo Museum of Contemporary art GAMEC which is only an hour or so away from Milano and it’s definitely worth the visit.
Date: September 19th – November 10th, 2008
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat 11:00-19:30
Place: Galleria Emi Fontana, Milano
Address: Viale Bligny, 42, 20136 Milano
Tel: +39 02 58322237
Sterling Ruby Geometric Study 2005 inkjet print with red pen on paper 13″ x 19″
Sterling Ruby 90-Degree-Cryer 2004 Lambda print mounted with sintra and plexiglas 20″ x 25″
I’ve seen Sterling Ruby‘s work in Foxy Production‘s rooms before, and it pulls me in every time. I can’t explain why. Even once inside, there seem to be so many questions unanswered; in fact I think that includes most of the questions, but you can tell he’s very serious about asking. While I admit his investigations are of a kind which wouldn’t occur to me, or perhaps to most any viewer, they manage to give his unique aesthetic an extraordinary intensity just for their being posed.
Yeah, I really like them.
One caution: The two images above don’t manage to do justice to the actual work, on view in the gallery as part of a very good small group show, “Geo,” until February 12.
[both images from Foxy Production]
Catégorie: art, exhibition, features – Pas de commentaires
27 February 2012
STERLING RUBY, Soft Work
at Centre d’Art Contemporains, Geneva
from 24 February – 22 April 2012
all images © WFW
For his first solo exhibition in Switzerland – that opened a few days ago at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva, Los Angeles based artist STERLING RUBY (1972) toys freely with a series of large-scale installations of soft sculptural works designed especially for this exhibition.
RUBY makes art of myriad forms which includes ceramic vessels, enormously phallic polyurethane stalagmites, minimalist cubes “defaced” by graffiti, photographs painted with red nail polish or video works. Alternately raw and elegant, degraded and ballsy, his works depict a fascination with the repressive overtones of minimalism, architecture and the history of abstraction.
Coming from an artist known for working in an excess of media, STERLING RUBY‘s current exhibition in Geneva is surprisingly single-minded. In fact, the exhibition focuses on a significant part of his body of work that has not received specific attention until now. Pillows, blankets and quilts are transformed from objects of comfort into sculptural objects that hint at the possibility that safety and security are an illusion. He also used his soft sculptural material to transform threatening or aggressive subject matter into playfully pop-like form. However, just as his previous exhibitions, it is all about overwhelming the viewer with objects, color and surfaces.
RUBY’s vocabulary is constantly mutating and expressing danger, as in the animal kingdom where the evolutionary expression of bright colors distinguish a poisonous creature. Similarly, in a manmade environment florescent colors are used to warn or avert, to caution or police, to highlight or even to castigate, as with the choice of a florescent orange uniform for a prisoner. Color is sometimes easy to overlook, yet considering his formal choices RUBY proves to be a well-versed student of that artistic tradition. – by STEVEN PULIMOOD for 032c #20
Soft Sculpture is currently on view at Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva until 22 April 2012
Miami-based. Internationally-sourced. Contemporary art site. Primary Documents. Local Explication.
Event Horizon: Sterling Ruby at the Rubell Family Collection
“In Mississippi it is difficult to achieve a vista.” –Barry Hannah
“When the links of the signifying chains snap, then we have schizophrenia in the form of a rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers.” That’s Fredric Jameson, outlining what he calls subjective schizophrenia, one of them postmodern maladies that we keep hearing about. His diagnosis also fits the Down and Out in Detroit and LA work of Sterling Ruby. In his rubble, one finds chunks of the New York School’s cloudwhipped façade, discolored by the gang tags of East LA. As tangled ends of the cultural continuum, they constantly try to snuff the other out. Moreover, as once separate levels of culture, quarantined from the other, their collapse reveals not so much a negation of cultural difference, but of space.
Sterling Ruby, SP170, 2011, Spray paint on canvas, 160 x 235 x 2 in.
Viewed this way, it makes sense that the paintings are preoccupied with atmospheric perpective. Created with spray paint on canvas, the images arise and retreat into a lo-gloss haze of pigment–cue the schizophrenic dispersion of subject. The color scheme recalls a heat-sensitive camera, or Predator’s vision. The dot, a puncture wound and a structuring element, lands on the cultural register somewhere between Ben-Day and an arterial spurt. And then there is the line: vertical and horizontal, repeated. This horizon underscores the work.
A horizon provides structure, be that geospatial, or narrative (John Wayne riding off into the sunset at the end of Red River). Speaking to the border between ex- and internality, it is the easiest way to locate oneself. Sugimoto, when attempting to photograph the primitive moment of naming, photographed the line between sky and sea.
Ruby comments on the distance between the subject and the landscape in his 2010-2011 essay, American Perspectives: “Our generation and those that come after are going to have to redefine their relationship to ‘the outsider.’ This is not because we will reconsider our relationship to those who we perceive to be different, oppositional, or marginal, but because we will be lamenting the loss of our belief in ‘the inside.’” Being outside history is a condition of what Karl Jaspers defined as an Axial Age, or the brief period between social epochs where thought flourishes. It is obvious that America has come to a turning point, but many, the artist included, are not optimistic about time to come.
Sterling Ruby, SP171, 2011, Spray paint on canvas, 160 x 235 x 2 in.
But the thing about the horizon is there’s just one. What is one to make of Ruby’s paintings, where the line jitters top to bottom? One can begin with parallax. Freshman year geometry example: Look at something twenty feet away. Close your right eye. Open it, then close your left eye. The object will oscillate. This phenomenon, which becomes more pronounced on the astronomical scale, is an easy allegory for the multiplicity of self. Take this excerpt from Joyce:
“What’s parallax?…Never know anything about it. Waste of time. Gasballs spinning about, crossing each other, passing. Same old dingdong always. Gas: then solid: then world: then cold: then dead shell drifting around, frozen rock, like that pineapple rock. The moon. Must be a new moon out, she said. I believe there is…I was happier then. Or was that I? Or am I now I?” (Ulysses, Episode 8, Lines 578-608)
Sterling Ruby, SP173, 2011, Spray paint on canvas, 160 x 235 x 2 in.
So while the illusory movement of a distant (solitary) object testifies to a plurality of the subject, these paintings, with their multiple horizons vibrating in tandem, almost completely dislocate the viewer. This complication of perspective reveals much larger breakdowns. The failure is not visual, but ideological. With the single horizon, we are simultaneously inside and outside of a space that is once shifting and contained. A line across a composition provides this ontological framework. (A comparison: the meditative internal space on view at the Rothko Chapel). By multiplying the horizon, the paintings seem to place us outside the outside-removed from the entire network.
Sterling Ruby, SP170, 2011, Spray paint on canvas, 160 x 235 x 2 in.
In case you were wondering, the distance to the horizon can be identified with the following formula: distance(km)=3.856√height (from sea level). For a person of average height standing on the beach, the horizon is 5km (3.1 miles) away. However, it’s rarely the numbers that matter. My favorite description of the horizon comes from Tennyson’s Ulysses:
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move. (Lines 19-21)
The horizon is not just the dividing line between firmament and terra firma. It is the limit, albeit one forever retreating, of human endeavor. What was once a Sublime representation of human potential is now shattered. Think of Caspar David Freidrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818. Think of the thumbnail crest of a rising moon. Etymologically, the sublime comes from the Latin sublimis, which is a combination of sub (up to) and limis (a boundary, limit, or threshold.) Push it to the limit. With Sterling Ruby’s new paintings, this limit ceases to become a spatial term, but another bit of cultural wreckage that one can pick through if they’d like.
A Hard Look at “Soft Work,” Sterling Ruby’s Cushy and Satirical Solo Exhibition in France
Photo: Martin Argyroglo
Installation view of Sterling Ruby’s exhibition, “SOFT WORK,” at the FRAC Champagne-Ardenne
by Juliette Soulez, ARTINFO France
Published: June 3, 2012
REIMS — “Soft Work,” Sterling Ruby‘s first solo show in France, opened last week at the Champagne-Ardenne FRAC in Reims. It focuses on several new pieces in an ensemble first conceived in 2005, and marks a departure for the artist, who previously worked primarily with more solid materials. Here, as the title indicates, softness predominates through the use of stuffed fabric — but the ideas are hard-hitting.
The exhibition was curated by FRAC director Florence Derieux — a different version of it was presented at the Geneva Contemporary Art Center earlier this year. It includes works resembling vampire mouths that hang from the rafters, red dripping from their teeth like cushy metaphors for consumerism. The series “Husband & Child” consists of beanbags shaped like buttocks and was inspired by the beanbag chairs found in typical American TV rooms of the 1980s. Other pieces are more vertical, like a set of thin, intertwined sausages that recall the bars of a prison. “This generation of artists, especially in the United States but not only there, has stopped believing in this opposition between abstraction and formalism,” Derieux told ARTINFO France. “There is a sort of reusing of these strategies.”
The sculptures in “Soft Work” — which is on view through August 26 — have been sewn with various stuffed and colorful fabrics, some of which are recycled, while others were purchased. Certain pieces are covered with dripped paint à la Jackson Pollock, while others feature recognizable patterns, like the American flag. At first glance the installation is fun and funny — a big cushiony playground. But there’s really nothing so soft about this show; its thinking is quite radical. Erotic but not vulgar, political but peaceful, the installation touches on four major subjects: the United States, feminism, economic liberalism, and the penal system.
“‘Soft Work’ is only a didactic term. It’s not hard, it’s not solid, it’s malleable,” Ruby told ARTINFO France. “This term refers to what the installation is. It’s a fiber sculpture but it’s also in reference to several centuries of art using textiles, to art therapy, and to feminism, especially. In America, there is a domesticity that is not associated with masculinity — or if it is, it’s usually associated with a difference, a contradiction.” Ruby, who studied French theory in college, cites the incluence of Foucault‘s writings on the penal system, heterotopias or spaces on the margins of society, sexual norms, domesticity, and societal constraints on the individual.
Born in 1972 to a Dutch mother and an American father, Ruby chose to work in Los Angeles, where he was an assistant to the late Mike Kelley, who became a close friend. Derieux said that some of the works are an homage to Kelley, who committed suicide earlier this year. “The universe of ‘Husband & Child’ is quite close to that of Mike Kelley,” she said. “Why certain practices, certain human activities are ascribed to women, for example, sewing, etc. — they had talked about this a lot.”
To see works from Sterling Ruby’s show at the Champagne-Ardenne FRAC, click the slide show.
This article also appears on ARTINFO France.
March 6th, 2010
Sterling Ruby, “Pig Pen” (2009-2010), on view at PaceWildenstein.
Through March 10, Sterling Ruby has two new pieces at PaceWildenstein’s downtown gallery. On view are “Pig Pen” and “Bus,” two industrialized traps that confine, says a gallerist, humanity’s basic primitivism. This is an artist’s apocalyptic endgame.
Sterling Ruby, “Bus” (2010) at PaceWildenstein.
More images and story after the jump…
Installation view, Sterling Ruby’s “2Traps” at PaceWildenstein.
Where “Pig Pen” is a stationary cage, “Bus” is a vehicle of transportation converted into a sculptural object, emphasizing 2Traps’s feel of ultimate stasis. They are the same size — about 10′ x 9′ x 40′ — but “Pig Pen” is almost cubist nature, comprised of smaller blocks themselves composed of the security doors found on many urban homes, where “Bus” is just that automobile fitted with speakers, sub-woofers, chrome, and confinement cages. That is, the artist in both cases confines an animalistic interior, but “Bus” comments most explicitly on societal stagnancy. Argues Ruby, today’s transportation holds its patrons still, defines them as animals in a procedurally ordered, dehumanized/dehumanizing society.
Detail from Sterling Ruby’s “Pig Pen” (2009-2010), at PaceWildenstein.
Back view, Sterling Ruby’s “Bus” (2010) at PaceWildenstein.
Detail, Sterling Ruby’s “Bus” (2010), at PaceWildenstein.
Born in Bitburg, Germany, Sterling Ruby studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Center College of Design. He has had solo exhibitions at Galleria d’arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and more. Ruby is recently represented by PaceWildenstein, which hosts this show. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
- R. Fogel
Who is Sterling Ruby?
Grappling with the work of an artist who relishes multiple viewpoints, myriad materials and a slippery approach to meaning
‘SUPERMAX 2008′ (2008), exhibition view, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
‘And he invents spaces, of which he is the convulsive possession.’
Landscape Annihilates Consciousness
On screen: a blob of viscous matter is gathered on a palette, and then smeared against a blank field. The image is accompanied by a soft, soothing, cajoling whisper, a voice, and the sound of repetitive movement: ‘I’m gonna just tap. Just gonna tap, very lightly. I don’t want to destroy. I want to diffuse. Now very lightly, lift it upward. See now, it softens it, pushes everything back. You can continue to do this ‘til it absolutely disappears on you, if you want to. You can soften it to any degree of brightness or darkness that you want in your world.’ A picture begins to emerge from planes and volumes: a snow-covered mountain landscape, the result of this tapping, softening, and diffusing. And where the painting is elaborated progressively, the voice loops back. In repetition, the murmured instructions come to seem like a mantra of sorts. Under their spell, the painter’s steady articulation of a conventional landscape comes to be more and more ambiguous.
In its 19th-century heyday, landscape painting put forward a human confrontation with the matter and appearance of the natural world. Sterling Ruby’s video, Landscape Annihilates Consciousness (2002), shows the practice as now deformed and inverted, determined instead to idealize and ‘diffuse’ this material world, ‘’til it absolutely disappears on you.’ Conventional landscape painting is figured here as the neutralization of world and mind. Reduced to its pure semiotics, painterly modulation becomes transcendentalist death wish. The last thing the painter renders is a house: flat geometry and broadcast television now produces the picture of a rustic pre-modern cabin – a nostalgic and ideological fantasy. Sovereignty is established, and totality realized. This painted world belongs to the artist, and – through the apparatus of televisual transmission, in the form of Bob Ross’ show The Joy of Painting – his world is to be yours. And yet the video dramatizes another turn as well: in his looping narration, the painter-fantasist is stuck, inertial, repeating himself. He is prey to his own creation. Annihilated and consumed by landscape, he is the one who fades into the background.
Who is Sterling Ruby in this arrangement? Which position does he inhabit? Is he the annihilated painter, or the mesmerized viewer? Is he the absent presenter of an altered artifact – its conduit or amplifier – or does he observe with us? In this video, and elsewhere, Ruby converges with each of these identities in turn, in a universe of effects without causes. Form is infinite, and dispossesses everyone equally: producer and consumer, image-maker and the one who looks. This troubled shifting of positions casts the artist one moment as producer of a heterogeneous range of conventionalized objects and styles – abstract paintings, Dada-lite collages, Minimalist art, Situationist posters, graffiti, ceramic earthenware, and so on – and the next as the outraged and dispossessed consumer of the generic signs he has produced; a third moment might find him ironizing this hysterical reaction, lacerating its private aspirations to totality; and so on.
‘Sterling Ruby’, then, is an unstable sign for a set of convergences, enactments, and circumscriptions – indeed, in its blank preciousness his name reads like a pseudonym, as if he were a fictional character. This conclusion is affirmed elsewhere: ‘The character at work,’ wrote Ed Schad in a review, ‘is not Ruby specifically, but a person who makes art created by Ruby.’1 ‘I have always thought of Sterling as a serial killer Joseph Beuys,’ Sarah Conaway declared in the third section of Ruby’s 2005 video Transient Trilogy. ‘Each pocket of work came from a different viewpoint’, Ruby told Holly Myers in 2006. Yet they share a ‘lineage’, he continues: ‘a dichotomy of repression and expression’.
Abyss of Negative Utopias
This ‘Ruby’ has been prolific since his first solo exhibitions, which began in 2003, while he was a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena; a survey will include ceramics and sculpture, posters and collages, and finish up with his synthetic exhibition-forms and video works.
His work deals with the production of space, including abstracted ceramic biomorphs, polyurethane stalagmites, and stained or defaced ‘Minimalist’ objects. His 2008 exhibition ‘Kiln Works’ at Metro Pictures is emblematic of this approach: convoluted and asculptural objects reproduce the organizational logic of microcellular organisms (Clover Dear, Blackout Romeo, all works in the exhibition 2008), simple containers or tools (Mortar and Pestle, Bread Basket), and mutant artifacts (Head Artist / Archaeology). Applied with expressionistic fervour, liquid rivulets of drizzled glaze are fired into unlikely, grotesque anti-forms – flayed turkeys, uterine dissections – that shade unexpectedly into ostentatious ornaments (Pyrite Fourchette) or weird reliquaries (resonating with Paul Thek’s and Lynda Benglis’ work, among others). These objects nevertheless relate to human size, embracing their domestic status as things for us, sometimes with comic literalness: Bread Basket is no bigger than its namesake.
Installed for ‘Killing the Recondite’ (Metro Pictures, 2007) or ‘Stray Alchemists’ (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 2008), Ruby’s ‘stalactites’ embrace instead an architectural and geological logic of phallic verticality, somewhat effaced by the alien fragility of the polyurethane strands from which they are composed. Like the ceramic artifacts, these are borne up by support structures marked as objects in their own right: wooden gallows, beam structures, minimalist cubes, plinths, and ethnographic or consumerist display platforms. These geometrical structures are evocative of public sculpture and the relative anarchy it can provoke: works like Inscribed Monolith (EPA-Alabaster) (2006) incorporate scrawled graffiti, fingerprints, and aggressive inscriptions on their surface. But they can also act out that version of minimalism which instates an oppressive ‘inclusiveness’.2 For example, Superoverpass, (Foxy Production, 2007), a minimalist arch which compresses the space of the gallery and looms above the viewer, or the various Inscribed Plinths from ‘SUPERMAX 2008’, presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which confront and structure the physical behaviour of their audience. They enact an oppressive minimalism to destroy it – to exacerbate and attack Minimalism’s perverse logic of power, its negative Utopia; even so, they are subject to the contradictory logic of iconoclasm, which reifies and glorifies the power it aims to defile. Defaced, shat upon, decapitated – titled Headless Dick / Deth Till (2008), one work presented an erect and bloodied formica shaft – and forced to bear the written language its pristine surfaces meant to forestall, 1960s Minimalist sculpture remains ineradicably and inevitably at the centre of the story. So too does the established critique of minimalist form as brutal and domineering, famously articulated by art historian Anna Chave in her 1990 essay ‘Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power,’ come to seem, in Ruby’s new context, reciprocally grotesque – paradoxically in love with the movement it means to insult.3
Paintings, posters and digitized collages map out a second zone of heterogeneous activity, pictorial in nature: breathtakingly lurid paintings, bright, sharply-defined acrylic spatters over blurred, neon topographical maps (such as Spectrum Ripper, 2008); fungal smears of dye captured in thick blocks of translucent urethane (Absolute Contempt for Total Serenity / DB Deth, 2008); bubblegum zones of flesh and mint and orange, stained with nail polish and framing magazine clippings of military camouflage and a depiction of a dressed wound (American Soldier – Digital Camouflage Composition, 2007). Collages notice strange patterns in the detritus of culture, and assemble them for our view – for example cross-breeding high Modernist abstraction with LA gangs’ colour fixation in FEMALE GANG HANDS (2007). Or they barrel off with giddy takes on postmodern body culture that decry formal domination (‘Long Live the Amorphous Law’ reads a graffiti slogan scrawled across Anti-Print Poster 3, 2007) and locate allegories of metamorphic possibility. These include the male-to-female transsexual effacing her phallus who appears in Trans Compositional (Crimped Red Hair, Cream Satin Dress) (2006), alongside gestural droplets of red nail polish that are themselves ‘reoriented’ from horizontal to vertical; and the bodybuilder whose physique mimics an erect penis in ‘Physicalism – The Recombine series’, (2006), as their clenched bodies are paired with – or have their heads replaced by – biomorphic candles.
To describe the works in this way, however, is to present them problematically severed from their system of objects. In their synthetic forms – exhibitions, video – Ruby’s works achieve a more programmatic scenography. The installation for ‘Stray Alchemists’ is a blasted psychedelic bunker; ‘SUPERMAX 2008’ presents the spires of a living organic city emerging from the inert remains of an imperial, minimalist urbanism. Paintings and actions are related to one another allegorically and semi-autonomously; they become accreted scenes and atomized props in a larger Gesamtzerstörwerk (a ‘total work of destruction,’ as historian Hanne Bergius once described the cumulated assemblage of Johannes Baader’s The Great Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama, 1920).4 From this allegorical terrain of exhibition we perceive both Ruby’s meaning in fragments, and a traumatized and hysterical ‘Ruby.’
‘… ciphers of an infinite authority …’
Perhaps this ‘Ruby’ will assassinate or replace the artist who produced him. In Transient Trilogy he seems intent on erasing his twin from the story, at least judging by the quote from an essay by Roger Caillois worked into the video’s script as a voice-off: ‘If an artist is invested with what he does, then there is little possibility of disassociating the maker from the work. When work is specifically about the artist, or if the work is dependent on what the artist-figure is occupied with, then the maker can have no real distance from the work. The artist and the work are unified as a hermetic structure and isolated from outside influence.’ Alternately this artist is simply self-similar: ‘… not similar to something, but just similar.’5
Yet the ‘Ruby’ enacted by the work is hardly so hermetic or isolated; rather, pre-existing sources, references and theories pervade his work, where they are brought into a contradictory and mutually embarrassing constellation. Critical theory ruptures artistic practice, even as its aphoristic obscurity is lampooned. Every work comes readymade with theoretical armature, self-annihilations, didactic instructions, blasé refutations, rabid slogans and more. This can leave an attentive viewer confounded – wondering if theirs is just another paranoid inscription onto forms full of evident energy, but still mysterious or essentially arbitrary. Ruby is clearly aware of what Henri Lefebvre described as ‘the vanity of a critical theory which works only at the level of words and ideas (i.e. at the ideological level)’6. Yet his practice leaves both theorists and artists in place, as ciphers of an infinite authority that might be resented but never overcome.
The final moments of Transient Trilogy: a camera scans the graffiti-covered terrain of a ‘natural’ reserve (gravel paths are in view, and cars just out of sight) and discovers a character, played by Ruby, trousers around his knees and head tucked into his arms. This is the homeless ‘transient’ of the work’s title, who ‘makes art by marking and decorating the environment’ – though it is inevitably erased by time and entropy. So too is this character caught in a troubled flux of sexual identity: hermaphroditic and sterile, the trans-figure is discovered in a moment of doomed and autoerotic sexual congress.
Figurations of this solitary, ‘fucked’ subject appear most clearly in Ruby’s video works; he ‘invents spaces of which he is “the convulsive possession.”’ Indeed this line is quoted in Dihedral (2006), which combines a voice-over reading a Caillois quote (again from the same essay) to a film of different dye-colors falling into a clear medium, a live-action Morris Louis painting. The ‘dihedral of representation’, for Caillois, stands for that context of perception wherein ‘the living creature, the organism, is no longer the origin of coordinates, but one point among others; it is dispossessed of its privilege and literally no longer knows where to place itself.’7 This demotion is presented, in the videos, alternately as terrifying – space becomes a ‘devouring force’, the subject merely a ‘dark space where things cannot be put’ – and perversely comforting: no longer forced by abstract form to identify himself, this subject can be one amorphous shape among others in a dedifferentiated universe.
This dream, however, is impossible to grasp – abstract space keeps intervening. The video works put forward several versions of this isolated character, dispossessed by space: the hiker, followed by the camera as if by a stalker, walking through a spectacular landscape transformed by the eye’s prerogatives, and perilously close to the abyss (Hiker, 2003); the vampiric office-worker who, bearing a camper’s rucksack, craves the comforting compression of a bathroom stall, sleeping bag or heating duct (Agoraphobic, 2001); the primitive-convulsive characters acted out by Ruby in Temper Tantrum / Intimate Death Magician (2003) or Found Cushion Act (2005).
In Transient Trilogy the character marks his presence in ritual fashion: cultish constellations of talismanic objects, spatters of nail polish. These efforts are not built to last, fading soon into indistinction. Stumbling into the woods, over a thick loam of leathery animal corpses and condom wrappers, the transient soon merges with the bushes. ‘Transient’ is not put forward as a social category, but as a state in which all life and form must inevitably exist: between life and death, male and female, form and formlessness. Not content to let this melancholic allegory stand, Ruby immediately reappears in a new role: an asshole director, whose ridiculous stage direction and squabbling with his intractable actor comically annihilates the sombre narrative that precedes it: ‘Listen! Think of Hamlet! The character who could not make up his mind.’
The Ruby of 2005 dramatized and ironized this punctured subject – an artist ‘afraid of yet obsessed with what went before and neurotically pursuing [his] own symptoms.’8 ‘SUPERMAX 2008’, on the other hand, puts forward the artist as the paradoxically exuberant governor of a rotting carceral order (the title refers to specialized ‘control-unit’ prisons). Geometrical abstraction is present still – in the form of stained and defaced plinths and grids – but these seem now to undergird an alien-geological order that stretches to the ceiling. The subject of this sci-fi scene remains troubled: permeated by a dark space that ‘touches the individual directly, envelops him, penetrates him, and even passes through him,’ he inscribes on the framework of Headless Dick / TSOVM (2008), and: ‘the past has cheated me/the present torments me’. Partly obscured, the third phrase reads: ‘the future … me’. The erased word is ‘terrifies’. Such negations are all the hope we get, in Ruby’s work. But perhaps they’re enough to live on.
1 Ed Schad, ‘Sterling Ruby: Supermax 2008’, Art Review, September 2008, p. 145
2 ‘Inclusiveness’ is Michael Fried’s term for a situation, precipitated by a ‘theatrical’ Minimalism, where ‘there is nothing within [the beholder’s] field of vision – nothing that he takes note of in any way – that, as it were, declares its irrelevance to the situation, and therefore to the experience, in question.’ Michael Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood,’ Gregory Battcock, ed. Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, New York, E.P. Dutton & Co 1968, p. 127
3 Anna C. Chave, ‘Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power,’ Arts 64, January 1990, pp. 44–63
4 Brigid Doherty, ‘Berlin’, in Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris (exh. cat.), Washington D.C., The National Gallery of Art 2006, p.97
5 Roger Caillois, ‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia,’ October 31, Winter 1984, p. 30
6 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, 1991, p. 60
7 Ibid, Caillois, p. 28
8 Sterling Ruby, ‘A Brief Rebuttal to Michael Workman’, New City Chicago, 7 February, 2005, http://www.newcitychicago.com/chicago/4075.html
Julian Myers is an art historian based in San Francisco. He is an assistant professor at California College of the Arts.
Sterling Ruby Chron
by Shane McAdams
The Drawing Room
February 22 – March 27, 2008
For hundreds of years, artists did everything in their control to refine their studio practices to achieve a singularity of style and technique. This changed slightly over the past century as Modern artists bounced from one orthodoxy to the next, but at any given point their work would have still been cohesive. In the last two decades, however, attitudes have changed considerably. Sterling Ruby’s exhibition, Chron, at the Drawing Room in Soho is emblematic of the rejection by younger artists of the unitary vision sought by generations of artists before them. Though it is positioned as a “drawing” show, Ruby’s wanderlust takes his work outside drawing’s conventional domain into collage, photography, and sculpture, incorporating a range of media from cosmetics to spray paint to gold foil—all the finest trappings a trip to Canal Street can offer.
Sterling Ruby: CHRON
, February 22 â�� March 27, 2008, The Drawing Center. Photo by Cathy Carver.
The wide stylistic variations of his work, however, as well as his bizarre love/hate relationship with Minimalism, sometimes result in Ruby’s goals getting lost in the noise. The question is whether there is a method to his divergent madness. In Chron, he mixes the excesses of pop glamour with elements drawn from reductive sculpture and painting. “(Mapping) Pink” for example, lays a riotous nest of drizzled nail polish over a geometric matrix of carefully inked lines. It is at once elegantly restrained and trashily expressive. The fact that the drawing is composed of nail polish can’t be overlooked, either. Its effectiveness as an innocent line drawing is quickly subverted by its materials, which transport the work from the realm of the autonomous and abstract to the referential and literal.
Other works such as “Soft Vortex” and “Prison” continue the visual duel with art history in ways that look nothing alike. “Soft Vortex,” a 60-inch-square wall object, looks like an oversized, bleach-splattered shirt ripped off an extra from Flashdance and wrapped around a small Carl Andre floor sculpture. If you approach such a work in terms of art’s past, it is clever and funny; if you don’t, I suspect it might look like trash. “Prison” collages a photo of a prison cell in the upper midsection of the paper, out of which emanates an array of slightly irregular, and slightly clumsy, colored pencil lines. One can’t help but read the prison image metaphorically in light of the geometric shortcomings of the line work (the “prison” of autonomous art?). If there is any lingering doubt whether such works are in fact guileful jabs at Minimalist dogma, and not accidental commentary, remember that Ruby exhibited a set of letterpress prints at Foxy Production two years ago, one reading “kill minimalism” and another, “minimalism tries to kill the amorphous law – geometry ends life.” Anyone who saw that show couldn’t be a character witness for Ruby if he was ever put on trial for vandalizing a Frank Stella painting.
Sterling Ruby: CHRON
, February 22 – March 27, 2008, The Drawing Center. Photo by Cathy Carver.
Chron’s gaudiness is heightened by its more than occasional references to bodily fluids, body parts, and sex. At moments it has the unsanitary, faux-glamour feel of a strip club with its lights on. The use of gold and silver foil and cheap cosmetics in several of the works on paper makes it difficult to separate the cultural implications of his work from its formal characteristics—a circumstance that asserts an ongoing challenge to the rhetoric about “Primary Structures” and “Specific Objects” mouthed by Donald Judd, Robert Morris and company forty years ago. Ironically though, despite Ruby’s determined rebuke of Minimalism, his most significant achievement in Chron is his treatment of industrial material, a concern not far from the hearts of many of the Minimalists. However, Ruby and others like, say, Rachel Harrison and Isa Genzken, now seem to celebrate excess production and the accumulation of waste, rather than the mechanical possibilities of the process. Judd’s immaculate stainless-steel boxes look less utopian now, and more like precursors to the year-old, junked IKEA coffee tables waiting on the curb for the arrival of the Department of Sanitation.
Yes, there is a method to Ruby’s madness, but it is a counterintuitive method for anyone expecting unity and homogeneity. While a knee-jerk reaction would be to judge this exhibition as lacking a center of gravity, the more patient observer will recognize in its unevenness an antithetical relationship to the evenness of the past. Chron addresses the failures of the autonomous pursuits of reductive art by indulging in the excesses that seem to be our society’s—and art’s— destiny.
interview by Sterling Ruby
Ron Nagle, Chez Monieu, 2009
Courtesy of the artist
Photography by Don Tuttle
STERLING RUBY I am sitting here looking at a yellow work of yours that I own called Wall Street Gerbil. It has had a place in our house for a few years now, and I enjoy it quite a bit. There has been a lot of debate over whether the small hanging protrusion in the middle is a nose or a dick. I was wondering if, as a personal favor, you could shed some light on this…
RON NAGLE I wasn’t thinking of that particular protrusion as a nose or a dick. My intention is to make images as ambiguous as possible so that viewers can create their own story. But for your own peace of mind, the protrusion has nothing to do with a nose. I would think of it as some kind of growth coming off of a field. I think the main influences on this kind of image, which occurs occasionally, are warts, skin tabs or moles, but I never make things too specific.
SR Since we’re on the topic of titles, I keep thinking that a lot of your titling is directed toward naming or giving a kind of subjectivity to your objects.
RN You are correct in thinking that my titles are often an attempt to vaguely personify the inanimate. My assistants and I usually have an on-going list of titles. We then put these against a group of pieces until we find one that makes some sort of sense at a vague associative level. Wordplay, non sequiturs and free association of imagery all come into play in the titles, but don’t actually affect what I make. I name my pieces like you would name your kids. I particularly love the way some words fit together phonically, which must come from my background as a songwriter. Without being too heavy-handed, most of my titles have an element of humor and, frequently, darkness. I will often hear a phrase that catches my attention and I’ll write it down because it struck some humorous note for me. For example, there was a guy from the utility company who, after performing various services, asked me to fill out a form evaluating his performance. He instructed me to “circle excellent.” This cracked me up, and there will be a piece coming soon called “Circle Excellent.”
Ron Nagle, Blue Weeorama 2009
Courtesy of the artist
Photography by Don Tuttle
SR Your sensibility for ’50s post-war aesthetics seems more in line with artists such as H.C. Westermann or Billy Al Bengston as opposed to Peter Voulkos or John Mason. What are your thoughts regarding the interactions between abstract expressionism and things like the Hot Rod or Kustom Kulture movements during the early stages of the California clay Revolution?
RN Even though I am strongly associated with the California Clay Revolution, the majority of my influences come from sources other than ceramic artists. I first delved into the well-crafted object when making model airplanes as a kid. I saw these guys at the rec center making Japanese fighter planes out of orange crates, sanding the wood down to a fine finish, sealing off the surface, painting the planes with Testors Dope hobby paint, and then meticulously gluing the components together. That same mentality still exists in my work. When I was making model airplanes with my father, he would always tell me two things: “Sand with the grain” and “Never do a job half-assed.” As much as I rebelled against the majority of his teachings and opinions, those two seemed to stick. After this, I was fully engaged in the hot rod culture in San Francisco and had a ’48 Ford Coupe, which had forty coats of British racing green lacquer, sanded with fine sandpaper between each coat to create a richness and depth that couldn’t be achieved without that kind of fanaticism and attention to detail. I still think that there are cars from the past, both custom and production, that are more interesting than most sculpture.
I came from San Francisco, but I couldn’t relate to the Bay Area figurative school, so I made pilgrimages to L.A. to see shows at the Ferus Gallery as often as I could. Theirs was an aesthetic, in scale and execution and surface, to which I could relate quite strongly. You mentioned Billy Al Bengston; I was unquestionably greatly influenced not only by his use of the airbrush to apply paint, but by the incredible sense of color in his paintings of the mid-’50s. Of all the California clay “revolutionaries,” my main influence was Kenny Price, whose discipline, sense of craft, and integrity have been major influences on my work.
With a few exceptions, I have a great deal of disdain for the “ceramic world” and its preoccupation with material, process and trite humor. I am much more drawn to painting. In my younger days, I looked a lot at Tàpies, Morandi, Albers, de Kooning, Rothko and Twombly. I always felt the aesthetic aspirations of painters were on a much higher level than those of the ceramic crowd. That being said, I am crazy about almost all ceramics from the Momoyama period in Japan (in the late sixteenth century) and American 1940s restaurant-ware, because of its lack of pretense.
Ron Nagle, Knights of Franconia, 2008
Courtesy of the artist
Photography by Don Tuttle
SR I’m not sure if you are tired of talking about this, but I just found out that you did all of the sound effects for The Exorcist (1973). What were some of your favorite scenes and your techniques for producing the sound for them?
RN I’m never tired of talking about this because its one of the best jobs I ever had. I was working with brilliant professionals in a rarified environment where I could do anything I wanted and get paid for it. The film’s director, William Friedkin, wanted the sound to be “bigger than life” so that even the smallest details were magnified. I was given a portable tape recorder to record anything that popped into my head, which could potentially used in the film. The sounds for the beginning of the movie were organic, such as the sound of a single bee in a jar tuned a hundred times to create a threatening din. That was combined with the sound of pigs being slaughtered along with some ambient machine noise that leaked into the recording. I had no idea what I was going to do with this combination of sounds once it was assembled on multi-track tape, but when it was played against the opening scenes, it seemed to work. The director flipped for it and I got the job.
One scene that stands out is when the priest goes through the window. The sound was created by smashing many, many window props and recording the smashing at various distances, as well as extending the tinkling and falling of the glass to just a little more than real time. That one window crash consisted of about forty one-inch pieces of tape spliced together to make one long crash. Later on, it occurred to me that much of the stacking or layering used in the recording process is not that dissimilar to my approach for glazing sculpture: I fire my ceramics many times and use layer after layer of glaze, underglaze or china paint to create the color. At least that is what I did until very recently. I am now using auto paint that has been matted out to paint on bisque ware. This usually requires fewer layers for the same effect, and it is a much more direct way of working. It is very satisfying to see how certain color combinations come alive immediately, before my very eyes, without having to wait to open the kiln every morning. It is just more like painting, which is something I’ve been trying for all along. I am seriously considering making my next group of work out of hollow cast plastic, using clay only to create the first immediate image and taking a mold from that.
Ron Nagle, Dr. Bob Cobbler, 2008
Courtesy of the artist
Photography by Don Tuttle
SR I am always amazed at your generation’s craftsmanship skills. Do you think that this comes from a time when everyone learned how to fix and make things properly? You first learned ceramics from your mother, and then moved into jewelry-making. What were the gender associations at this time for someone working in ceramics and jewelry?
RN My father was a businessman by profession, but he could make or fix almost anything, so the idea of making objects was instilled in me early. My mother was also a very skilled seamstress. I am like many people of my generation, whose parents made or fixed stuff because they came out of the Depression.
Craftsmanship, for me, does not only represent slick or finished work. It is any technique that makes the finished piece believable. I started off as a jeweler because it was considered a very hip thing to do during the Beatnik period. During that time, the majority of contemporary jewelers were men, whereas ceramics was still thought of as something that little old ladies did. It wasn’t until the studio pottery movement and then Voulkos that ceramics took on a macho image. When I started using things like store-bought glazes, china paints and decals, and began slip casting, it ran contrary to this macho image. Let’s not forget that it was Kenny Price who took these small cup and vessel forms and started bringing bright color and subtlety to contemporary ceramics.
SR Can you explain what you mean when you call yourself a “White Devil Formalist”? Is this the same as being a “Precious Asshole”?
RN Being a “White Devil Formalist” and a “Precious Asshole” are two separate, but similarly glib, responses to classifying myself. “White Devil Formalist” is a sarcastic way of saying that I am a white male whose work doesn’t necessarily have literal meaning. “Precious Asshole” means that I am drawn to small-scale intimate work by artists such as Morandi, Vermeer, Price, Cornell, Albers and Albert Ryder.
Having taught at the college level for fifty years, I’ve become very cynical and, in fact, resentful of political correctness, French theory and the what-does-it-mean crowd. By and large, I learned to detest academia and its left-brained approach to the arts. People forget that all of the aforementioned issues are matters of fashion and not necessarily the truth.
I come from a music background and I apply the same sensibility to both making and experiencing art. It all comes down to what it feels like, what it conjures, what associations a great piece of work can have on a vaguely, dare I say, magical level. I make no separation between high or low, pop music or oil-painted masterpieces. I would just as soon hear “River Deep, Mountain High” as look at Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. They both do the same thing for me. I told my daughter to go to the Met and see the Turner show. She said, “Ike Turner?”
Ron Nagle, Knights of Franconia, 2008
Courtesy of the artist
Photography by Don Tuttle
Artistic and literary works are the starting point for the work of Ciprian Muresan (*1977, Dej, Romania), who appropriates them for a reflective project that intersects with the recent history of Romania and other Eastern European countries and, more generally, ponders the realities of the contemporary world.
For his first solo exhibition in Switzerland, Ciprian Muresan presents two new pieces: an installation, “Recycled Playground”, from which the exhibition takes its title and its tone, and a companion video creation. A selection of other significant works is also presented. Juggling humour and critique, the artist highlights the structures and processes of all forms of power.
Above – Ciprian Muresan. Recycled Playground
Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève
until April 22, 2012
© Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. Photos: David Gagnebin-de Bons
“Soft Work” is the first solo exhibition in Switzerland by the Los Angeles based artist, Sterling Ruby – described by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith in a 2008 review as “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century”. Taking cues from artists such as Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, Ruby works in a variety of different media. His work is a form of assault on both materials and social power structures. The show in Geneva focuses on one significant body of work within the artist’s practice that has not yet received specific attention: the “soft sculpture”.
Sterling Ruby. Soft Work
Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève
until April 22, 2012
© Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. Photos: David Gagnebin-de Bons
by David Spalding
November 8, 2011
Sterling Ruby’s “Vampire”
Caught in that dark crawlspace between the living and the dead, hounded by a destructive, unending hunger and burdened with the need to indoctrinate: this is today’s American empire as it appears in “Vampire,” Sterling Ruby’s exhibition of new and recent work at The Pace Gallery, Beijing. Ruby has always needed to tag and topple monuments dedicated to the old order. For his 2008 exhibition SUPERMAX at the Geffen Contemporary, MOCA, Los Angeles, Ruby scratched, scarred, and defiled Minimalist-derived sculptural forms until they confessed their sins, creating a claustrophobic installation that forged links between 1960s American Minimalism and incarceration. For his first solo show in China, Ruby returns to the period’s obdurate, block-headed muteness, finding an unspoken desire for power in the geometric, reductive, and “objective” approaches made famous by Minimalists and the critics that championed them. Here Ruby reinterprets these forms, along with historically contiguous modes of painting and sculpture, dragging the whole lot squarely into a present marked by desperate consumption, global war, and economic collapse.
Ruby has a flair for the theatrical. With its star-spangled smile and dripping fangs, the soft sculpture Double Vampire 6 (unless otherwise stated, all works 2011) evokes the Rolling Stones’s lascivious tongue-and-lips logo, high on meth and out for blood. It’s plagued by a grimacing hunger without conscience, sitting in a gridlocked SUV, gobbling Oldenburg’s burgers after a visit to art history’s drive-thru. Though undead, it must continue to feast: gluttony has become its eternal curse. The only word it knows is “more.”
America’s endless conflicts in the Middle East are palpable here. An inclined, rectilinear form made of spray-painted aluminum, Predator Monolith rises from the floor as if it’s about to take flight. The work simultaneously suggests the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the wing or cockpit of a “hunter-killer” MQ-1 Predator, those unmanned aerial vehicles used by the US Air Force and CIA for classified bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan…wherever the war on terror takes us. A related work, Consolidator (2010-2011), repossessed from Ruby’s junkyard of spray-painted geometries, is a Euclidian take on an all-in-one cannon-cum-coffin. Predator Monolith appears to be aimed at Monument Stalagmite / Vampire Empire. The work is a monument to erectile dysfunction: a sinewy, psychedelic tower of shiny red and blue supported by an unpainted board (a “crutch,” in Ruby-speak) on which is written, in prison-jumpsuit orange, the phrase “VAMPIRE EMPIRE.”
Surrounding these works are three large bronze Debt Basins: sutured, roughly circular structures containing what look like artifacts unearthed from the site of a post-credit crisis Pompeii. Each of these reliquaries contains petrified dioramas—miniature landscapes of scavenged junk where stacked kilns become towering crematoria. Though they seem to have been sent from the tombs of an ancient, ruined culture in order to warn us, they arrive too late, foretelling a future that has already been set into motion. A series of three works called JIGS are solemnly arranged in an adjacent room: abstracted American flags made of rebar and displayed atop configurations of what looks like scrap metal—an improvised, solemn tribute to fading glory.
With their overlapping bands, scribbles and blasts of hazy, electric color, Ruby’s enormous, spray-painted canvases play at transcendence through an irreverent, day-glo nod to Rothko’s color fields. They also give a shout-out to artists such as Jane Kaufman and Jules Olitski, who continued to expand the medium of painting during the mid-60s, despite the limitations touted by Minimalism’s critical cabal. The distinction in these works is not between figure and ground, but between a series of competing planes of atmospheric color that alternately float against the painting’s surface and then recede like so many after-images. Their fuming magnetic fields draw viewers toward an imploding horizon. If the paintings sometimes suggest the luscious sunsets of Los Angeles, it’s the LA of Synanon and the Crips, seen in hindsight through the rear view mirror of an apocalyptic present.
Sterling Ruby is at the forefront of a generation of LA artists whose training enables them to successfully mine the legacy of recent sculpture, particularly Minimalism and its aftereffects—artists as different as Jason Meadows, Taft Green, Won Ju Lim, and Rachel Lachowicz. Ruby is also a storyteller, motivated by formal and ethical questions. It doesn’t matter whether Beijing audiences can identify the art historical references in Ruby’s work. His point is not to stage a solipsistic conversation about the art of the 60s, but to use his knowledge of these forms to speak to something far more pressing—the vampiric impulses of an undead empire, one that continues to devour resources because it cannot be laid to rest. To present this work in Beijing, the political heart of an economically ascendant country widely prophesized to be the next global superpower, couldn’t be more fitting.
1View of, “Vampire”, The Pace Gallery, Beijing, 2011.
2Sterling Ruby, Consolidator, 2010-2011.
3Sterling Ruby, Monument Stalagmite / Vampire Empire, 2011.
4View of, “Vampire”, The Pace Gallery, Beijing, 2011.
5Sterling Ruby, Debt Basin 3, 2011.
6Sterling Ruby, JIG 1, 2011.
- 1View of, “Vampire”, The Pace Gallery, Beijing, 2011. All images courtesy of The Pace Gallery, Beijing.
- 2Sterling Ruby, Consolidator, 2010-2011. Bronze. 175.3 cm x 233.7 cm x 642.6 cm.
- 3Sterling Ruby, Monument Stalagmite / Vampire Empire, 2011. PVC pipe, foam, urethane, wood,spray paint and formica. 558.8 cm x 96.5 cm x 157.5 cm.
- 4View of, “Vampire”, The Pace Gallery, Beijing, 2011.
- 5Sterling Ruby, Debt Basin 3, 2011. Bronze. 243.8 cm x 243.8 cm x 50.8 cm.
- 6Sterling Ruby, JIG 1, 2011. Metal. 105 cm x 96 cm x 90 cm.
WRITING : 2006 : STERLING RUBY
In his 2004-5 video Transient, Sterling Ruby embodies a disheveled, homeless drifter moving through a terrain both ruinous and vacant. Along the way the eponymous character creates unsettling little ephemeral sculptures, splashes blood-red nail polish in a concrete pit, and—yikes—fucks a skull. Later in the video, Ruby adopts a second persona: the obsessive, obnoxious director of the narrative we have just witnessed. The appearance brings unexpected comic relief to a dark and knowingly unpleasant work; more importantly, it suggests Ruby’s interest in positioning the artist as an archetypal figure, a duplicitous creator-destroyer engaged in a self-induced, self-perpetuating cycle of making and unmaking.
Highly prolific, Ruby moves fluidly—like a transient—among video, ceramics, sculpture, installation, drawing, photography, and collage. Rather than obliterating the notion of medium, his sprawling practice reifies a more primitive sense of the term, structuring much of his work’s meaning around the agency of its becoming. His ceramics, with glazes that appear to be melting, suggest violent, visceral creation, retaining a sense of the material’s initial malleability in the final forms. The ceramics are visually striking but nearly impossible to apprehend in one’s memory, at once recalling wobbly three-dimensional peace signs and eviscerated rib cages. (Clearly related to the ceramics, a creepy kiln has appeared in a number of collages, appearing paradoxically as a vaginal point of origin and a deadly void.) While a recent sculpture, Orange Inanimate Torso (2005), is as grisly as the name suggests, the work also vigorously asserts its indefinite, “abstract” nature.
This engagement with form and formlessness is clearly indebted to postminimalists including Lynda Benglis and Robert Morris (both keenly aware of the artistic potential of embodiment and persona), as well as Los Angeles father figures Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. But the scariest and most rewarding aspects of Ruby’s work, in which the artist obsessively attempts to locate sublimity at various sites of trauma—and in the horrific potential of materials—finds roots in marginalized oddballs such as Paul Thek, Lucas Samaras, Bruce Conner, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and as suggested by a recent collage, sci-fi artist-designer H. R. Giger. Giger’s signature aliens, part insect, part machine—methodically juxtaposed alongside images of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, war protestors, Linda Blair from The Exorcist, the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, and heavily tattooed women—are agents of transference, transgression, transformation, and (perhaps) transcendence. As such, they embody Ruby’s ambition to locate trauma—and meaning—in an unfixed state.
This essay originally appeared in the catalogue for the 2006 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, October 31 – December 31, 2006.
WRITING : 2006 : STERLING RUBY
|Flash Art n.271 March – April 2010SINCERELY HOSTILEJOÃO RIBAS: I’d like to begin by discussing this post-humanist condition underscoring so much of your practice — ranging as it does from sculpture to drawing, video, ceramics, and painting.Sterling Ruby: Post-anxiety, post-cynicism, post-transgression, post-depression, post-war, post-law, post-gender, etc., etc., etc. For me it seems fitting to the purpose that all of this baggage is the reason we have to be post-humanist. There is just too much information for anything to be coherent or whole. To be quite honest I had never thought about post-humanism in relation to my work until Robert Hobbs started the discussion while preparing his essay for the JRP|Ringier book. What makes it hard is that there is no real definition of post-humanism, which seems fitting for the times and for the topic. During the ’80s and ’90s, Félix Guattari and Jean-François Lyotard were focusing on technological advancements and sociological peripheries that seemed to suggest a future transformation or liberation of some kind. At present Mike Davis sees the post-human as an entity of excess, an individual or group who can’t take any more. Even Steve Nichols who published The Post-Human Manifesto in 1988 suggested the situation might be generational.
|Grid Ripper, 2008. Installation view at GAMeC, Bergamo (IT), 2008. Courtesy the artist and Emi FontanaWest of Rome, Milan / Los Angeles. Photo: Roberto Marossi.
|JR: Yet somehow your work seems particularly grounded by a specific notion of‘transversality’…SR: Well, one outcome of this ‘post-situation’ is generating a feeling of continuum, as an adjustment or a way of coping. It certainly doesn’t feel as if it is anything other than a strategy for survival. I recently started thinking that I apply a kind of ‘transversality’ not only in theory, but also as a work ethic. My intention is to use many media as a kind of schizophrenic labor strategy. It seems very easy now to say it, but it has taken me years to convey that this scattered routine belongs within a coherent trajectory. Works may not look the same formally, they might not even be within the same medium, but there is a lineage that links everything that I do together.JR: There are two poles that emerge directly from your early sculptural and drawing work that seem foundational. On the one hand there is the masculine orthodox language of minimalism, which your work has had an agonistic relationship with, in its reappraisal, from the start. On the other hand, the notion of representing, in symbolic form, marginal states and forms of containment like the penal system and incarceration, normative sexuality, the notion of a stable social identification, as well as attempts to move out of these things that are often deemed types of ‘pathologies’ — gangs and criminality, transexuality, abjection… These are in some way the repressed ‘other’ of minimalism…SR: These two poles (formalism and representation) have always seemed to be in opposition of one another, but for me they became mirrored necessities, especially over the past decade working as a contemporary visual artist. I went to a foundation college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for four full years; I learned the visual basics like perspective, color, composition and form. In that curriculum I did nothing other than still life, figure studies, mixing colors and additive and subtracted sculpture. After that my education switched completely; I wound up taking almost no studio classes, enrolling mainly in psychology and theory courses. Havingone versus the other seemed absurd and I often thought about what it would be like if I haddone neither. This is where my graduate education fell into a downward spiral, which ultimately led to not receiving a degree. I felt like I was regressing, that I had too much education, and that this was preventing me from making anything other than premeditated work. The antagonistic approach that I have taken towards minimalism started during this period. I thought that Judd’s writing was too much of a handbook and that the movement was restricted because of it. The ideas of territory and how things were deemed minimal were in dialogue with masculine authority or, more significantly, who controlled the movement, and I found that to be problematic. I have always thought of art as similar to poetry, that it can’t be proven and yet, if done right, has a sense of unmistakable aura. This idea is also in direct conflict with education and training; it brings with it my generation’s shift towards primitivism or naivety. My disobedience of the regulations that set definition to the movement manifested itself in certain pathologies. Everything started to collapse in on itself, and there became no line between formalism and representation. The minimal form was in fact no longer the item of exteriorobject-hood, but instead the vessel that contained all aspects of marginal states.JR: Is there also a sense of embracing devalued cultural forms, say like ceramics, orgraffiti — as demarcations of territory and collective identity?SR: Yes, absolutely. Ceramics in particular correspond to the therapy-driven collective identity. The medium of clay for me is universal. It holds all sorts of shared principles with reference to desire, immediacy, sexuality and repression. The malleability of the clay becomes truncated via the kiln, which is also a kind of a monumental allegory for where we are as a generation. Perhaps it characterizes our incapability to truly feel as if there is an innate expression… that even this is an incarceration of current times. It is converted through the firing into a monument of the gesture that it once had. Graffiti is similar to this as well. It seems like a kind of collective mark making, as much as it is about territorial pissing.
|American Risk, 2009. PVC pipe, foam, urethane, wood, spray paint and formica, 422 x 229 x 183 cm. Courtesy the artist and PaceWildenstein, New York / Beijing.ACTS/KKDETHZ, 2009. Formica, wood, spray paint and urethane, 154 x 159 x 86 cm. Courtesy the artist. Photos: Robert Wedemeyer.
|JR: One of the terms that seems to keep coming up in discussions of contemporary art practice is the idea of ‘sincerity’ — almost taken on as a positive, critical term. At the same time, your work has often been reproached for being precisely the inverse. I find it somewhat puzzling that sincerity would be taken up by a generation of artists as a critical term.SR: Yes, I agree with that completely. Sincerity seems to have become a designationfor our generation. It feels like the backlash to cynicism or even postmodernism. I guess I hadn’t thought that it was a critical term as much as a way out of conceptual pessimism, maybe even anti-critical. I get pretty down on the fact that people equate sincerity with being positive. I do think that my work is sincere, but this often gets overlooked because of its underlying hostility.
|The Masturbators, 2009. 9 channel video with sound, installation view at Foxy Production, New York.Courtesy the artist and Foxy Production, New York. Photo: Mark Woods. Animal, 2009. Lambda Print, 183 x 122 cm. Courtesy the artist and Marc Foxx, Los Angeles.
|JR: I’m curious about The Masturbators (2009) in terms of its structured patheticalness— the corporality is so intense and aggressive as to almost be a form of torture…SR: I started The Masturbators almost a year ago. I originally had a different idea for the work.I hired one male porn actor and asked him to masturbate to climax in a room by himself. The camera and crew were in the adjacent room with the lens being focused through a hole in the wall. I expected the actor to run through the request with ease, but the reality of it was that he couldn’t do it. His embarrassment over his profession and not being able to masturbate to climax became the project itself. I followed the project over six months by hiring an additional eight actors, shooting them all the exact same way. In the end only three of the nine actors were able to climax; the ones who could not had reactions ranging from subtle humiliation to violent disappointment. There were times during the production where it got very tense. I had focused so much on the super maximum penitentiary stuff the years leading up to this, that I had contemporary masculinity in the back of my head. I read a great line from Lorna Rhodes’ Total Confinement, which stated: “The secret of violent men is that they feel ashamed —deeply ashamed over matters that are so trivial that their very triviality makes it even more shameful to feel ashamed about them.” I thought about this quote every time I finished a shoot with one of these guys. I mean: who should be expected to climax on cue? The projectbecame like a core behavioral study once completed. It seemed brutal, but honest.João Ribas is curator of exhibitions of MIT, List Visual Arts Center, Boston.Sterling Ruby was born in 1972 in Bitburg, Germany. He lives and works in Los Angeles.Selected solo shows: 2010: PaceWildenstein, New York. 2009: Xavier Hufkens (with Robert Mapplethorpe), Brussels; Foxy Production, New York. 2008: Sprüth Magers, London; GAMeC, Bergamo (IT); Emi Fontana, Milan; MOCA, Los Angeles; Metro Pictures, New York; The Drawing Center, New York. 2007: Christian Nagel, Berlin; Bernier/Eliades, Athens; Foxy Production, New York; Metro Pictures, New York. 2006: Marc Foxx, Los Angeles; Emi Fontana, Milan; Christian Nagel, Cologne. 2005: Marc Foxx, Los Angeles; Guild & Greyshkul, New York; Sister, Los Angeles; Foxy Production, New York. 2004: 1R, Chicago; Foxy Production, New York. 2003: Art Center College of Design, Pasadena (CA); 1R, Chicago; Suitable, Chicago.
Sterling Ruby Painter, Mixed-media Artist, Ceramicit, Sculptor– For an artist whose hyperprolific output jumps from inchoate stalagmite sculptures covered in a urethane coat akin to a nail-polish lacquer to a refurbished bus that once transported California prison inmates; from neon-dappled semi-abstract graffiti paintings to one recent video work of masturbating male porn stars, the studio compound of Sterling Ruby is surprisingly organized. Located southeast of Los Angeles in the industrial stretches of Vernon, California (Pennzoil motor oil is produced directly across the street), the artist’s headquarters, staffed by 10 assistants, is divided into five separate workshops for drawing and collage, ceramics, paintings, urethane, and woodwork. Ruby, who was born in Germany but grew up on the East Coast and attended college in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles for graduate school, is probably one of the most accomplished material-jumping art stars of the last decade. He’s known for producing bright, pop-colored works that belie more sorrowful, failed underpinnings—as if the 38-year-old’s sculptures can’t seem to organize themselves into a form and the canvases can’t cohere to produce a single order. This, of course, can be read as a structural breakdown or the beginning of new possibilities. “I’ve found a pretty happy route in using a lot of different mediums,” he explains. “Even video. I feel very capable of picking it up without preconceived rules and regulations to make it work.” Currently, Ruby has two different bodies of work taking up most of the activity of his studio. One is a series of Mexican scrap-metal sculptures, many of which seem to be shaped like guns, which was inspired by a recent stay at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, near the Mexican border. The second is a number of large ceramic basins glazed in vibrating colors and filled with broken shards that reflects Ruby’s “basin theology” (his belief that in placing past work in these containers, he might reclaim his futile gestures). In a sense, these pieces may be the receptacles of Ruby’s past mistakes, but they are also small monuments celebrating their own subsistence.
Sterling Ruby at his studio in Vernon, Ca, October 2010. All clothing: Ruby’s own.
|MOCA FOCUS: STERLING RUBY
|06.19.08 – 09.19.08
|MOCA Focus: Sterling Ruby, SUPERMAX 2008 is the eighth installment of MOCA’s series of one-person exhibitions of work by emerging artists in Southern California. Presented at MOCA Pacific Design Center, the exhibition will feature new works in an installation specifically designed for the space. Sterling Ruby’s works in collage, ceramics, video, and sculpture tackle received notions of aesthetic tropes and social stereotypes that are based on visual signs. Often monumental in scale, Ruby’s works immerse the viewer in sets of formal codes and gestures that refer to transience, transgression, and transference—phenomena that are social and psychological, physical and emotional. Born in Bittburg, Germany, in 1972, Ruby received BFAs from the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in 1998 and from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002. After relocating to Los Angeles in 2003, Ruby received a MFA from Art Center College of Design in 2005, and his work has been featured in numerous exhibitions internationally. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by MOCA Curator Philipp Kaiser.MOCA Focus: Sterling Ruby, SUPERMAX 2008 is made possible by generous endowment support from The Nimoy Fund for New and Emerging Artists and the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation Fund to Support the Work of Emerging Artists.Major support is also provided by a multi-year grant from The James Irvine Foundation. Additional generous support is provided by The MOCA Contemporaries, Karyn Kohl and David Hockney.
21 Questions for Artist Sterling Ruby
Published: October 11, 2011
City/Neighborhood: Los Angeles, CA
What project are you working on now?
I am working on a soft-sculpture exhibition for the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, organized by Katya García-Antón, which opens in February 2012. I’m also finishing a show titled EXHM / BC for the Frac Champagne-Ardenne, in Reims, in May 2012, working with Florence Derieux on this one.
Your solo show, VAMPIRE, is currently the first exhibition by a Western artist at Pace Beijing, and one of the first selling shows by a Western artist in mainland China. What do you make of that distinction?
I’m not sure what this means, to tell you the truth.
Why do you think they chose you?
I was very excited visiting Beijing for the first time in 2008 — there was an energy that the city had that the artists seemed to be feeding off of, it reminded me of the first time I experienced Los Angeles. I became fascinated by China’s speed and scale. It seems somewhat cliché but there really is an excessiveness and power in Beijing. The invitation to exhibit came from Leng Lin, the Pace Beijing director. We have a good rapport, and I admire what he’s done.
You are known for jumping from one medium to another, which is a rare approach among Chinese contemporary artists, who tend to cultivate signature styles. How has your work been received by the Chinese audience?
So far the reception of the exhibition has been good. The idea of Chinese contemporary artists cultivating signature styles is misleading. I don’t believe that Chinese artists are any more unidirectional than, say, American artists. That assumption might be based on the obsession with media, auction prices, and specific works. I have been to Beijing eight times over the past couple of years and realize now after getting to know many artists there and having done frequent studio visits that my perception prior to going was wrong. Someone like Zhang Xiaogang is primarily known for his paintings because of the auctions, but he has an incredibly diverse practice, which also includes sculpture, collage, and printmaking. This is something that I would not have known without visiting his studio and meeting him. I really like the work of Song Dong, whose ’90′s performative roots continues to inform his interdisciplinary practice. Even Li Songsong has made sculptures. The younger generation of Chinese artists is also working through this figurative/narrative (pre-Cultural Revolution) paradigm, which seems to be the West’s narrow definition of Chinese contemporary art.
You also have a show up currently at Andrea Rosen Gallery where your work is displayed alongside that of Lucio Fontana. Is there another historical artist with whom you would like to share a show?
I would love to curate a show around Jay DeFeo’s “The Rose” and Bruce Conner’s assemblage works like “The Bride.”
What’s the last show that you saw?
Paul Schimmel’s phenomenal “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981″ at L.A. MOCA.
What’s the last show that surprised you? Why?
Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust” show at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. The LED counters, projections and sculpture were so crystal clear and hypnotic. I loved watching this optically trippy set of works and thinking about their Buddhist-Existentialist subject matter. I like the fact that as long as the equipment continues to run, the works perpetually have a life of their own. I forgot to ask the Ullens folks if they turn it off at night.
Do you make a living off your art?
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
The Hitachi CR18DL 18V 3.0Ah Lithium Ion Reciprocating Saw.
Do you collect anything?
I collect art and pottery.
What’s the last artwork you purchased?
I recently acquired Taryn Simon’s “Ski Dubai, The first indoor ski resort in the Middle East, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai” (2005) and Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of the Baltimore writer “Cookie Mueller” (1978).
What’s the first artwork you ever sold?
I sold my first sculpture in 1999-2000 while living in Chicago. I was paid $500, which is what my rent was at the time. I spent $700 to make the sculpture. I bought the sculpture back from the collector a few years ago. I’m glad to have it in my possession again despite having lost money both times.
What’s your art-world pet peeve?
There are many, but I tend to keep them private now.
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
Not really, I try to see what I can… I tend to see more shows when I travel.
What’s the last great book you read?
I just finished “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Faber and Mazlish and Murakami’s “A Wild Sheep Chase.”
What work of art do you wish you owned?
I wish I owned Georg Baselitz’s “The Big Night Down the Drain” (1962-1963).
What would you do to get it?
Almost anything, and I mean “anything.”
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
Egypt — I want to see the pyramids.
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
Three photographers: John Divola and friends Sarah Conaway and Melanie Schiff. I think Mara McCarthy’s gallery, the Box, is exceptional.
Who’s your favorite living artist?
I have always been a fan of Chris Burden, I’ve gotten to know him personally over the past few years and really admire his way of doing things. He’s up there for me.
What are your hobbies?
I’m trying to get Young Buck out of his contract with 50 Cent so that he can finally have a real follow up to 2004′s “Straight Outta Ca$hville.”
by Walter Robinson Artnet
The notion of the “abject” came into the art world in an appropriately half-assed way, as a show organized for the Whitney Museum by students in its “independent study program” in 1993.Subtitled “Repulsion and Desire in American Art,” the survey focused on what might be called female troubles — those very physical and very real elements of sexuality that men don’t typically find sexy. The exhibition included works by Louise Bourgeois, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith and that maestro of the anal phase, Paul McCarthy.
Since then, the idea of the abject has spread like a fungus, and today is the attribute that few avant-garde artworks can do without. Their anti-social truancy is all that separates “advanced” art from our flourishing mass culture. It makes you think: Long gone is the time that contemporary art was about abstraction taking us to new spiritual heights.
A case in point would be Sterling Ruby, the 30-something Los Angeles artist whose Minimalist sculptures defaced with smudges and scratchiti took the art market by storm in 2008. One especially clear example was exhibited at Metro Pictures, a sculpture of two geometrical forms smeared with schmutz and titled Absolute Contempt for Total Serenity.
These modest thoughts framed an evening visit to the Museum of Modern Art a couple of months ago, where curator Barbara London had arranged a special screening of five of Ruby’s videos in collaboration with his Chelsea gallery, Foxy Production. (Though shot on video, they took the form of “films,” and were projected in MoMA’s theater as part of a “Modern Mondays film screening.” )
The notion of abjection provided a way into a group of short videos — 61 minutes in all — that were otherwise fairly hermetic. Like a lot of artist’s films and videos, Ruby’s are not what you would call “narrative structures.” Rather, they’re more like drawings or sketches, in which each video tries out a single idea, rather than telling any kind of story.
For what it’s worth, though the artist likes to work across disciplines in many mediums, these five vids struck me as the work of a sculptor — though they do give a broader sense of Ruby’s artistic practice.
Thus, the short vid Hole (2002) illustrates a voice-over of some retail employee relating how he hated his job so much that he would stuff store stock into holes in the wall, costing thousands in lost inventory, with footage of several actors putting stuff through a gap in a plaster wall.
Similarly, Cartographic Yard Work (2009), shows the artist in an industrial yard, surrounded by piles of construction debris and the like, filling in small holes. (A task undertaken at the request of his landlord, Ruby informed the audience, as he himself had dug the holes, which were behind his studio, apparently as a kind of meditation).
This video especially seemed to be the work of a sculptor, particularly the “anti-form” sculptors of the 1970s, though Ruby’s approach seems more downbeat, even nihilistic, than those Postminimalist exercises in matter, volume and texture could ever be.
In Dihedral (2006), on the other hand, the image is pure prettiness, a chromophonic spectrum of color and movement presumably effected by dropping colored inks into an aquarium. The soundtrack for this nutrient-free eye candy is some gnomic scientific text, possibly about form in space but, really, impossible to follow — in its own way, nutrient-free as well.
Most abject, and decidedly avant-garde, is the final video in the series of five, called Triviality (2009), and featuring an endless — actually it was only nine minutes long — scene of a Los Angeles porno actor, Tom Colt, standing naked in a bare room masturbating, trying unsuccessfully to bring himself to orgasm. The film’s approach is all Body Art and very little eroticism (and is not at all coy like the accompanying still).
The artist said he was interested in his actor’s sense of embarrassment (at his professional failure to ejaculate on cue), but to the viewer the performance was a challenge to watch. Though the action in Triviality is utterly familiar — and certainly much can be said about it — its presentation was offensive first of all. Which is what makes it an emblematic avant-garde gesture.
The longest video, at 36 minutes, is titled Transient Trilogy (2005), and comes the closest to being a real film, with an actor, a setting and something of a narrative scheme. Ruby himself plays a bum, who transits a marginal landscape, neither nature nor manmade, where he occupies himself crafting what can only be called artworks from string, cast-offs and other bits of trash. In one scene, he makes a minor splatter painting on a rock with red fingernail polish.
As a filmmaker, Ruby lingers longingly on his “nonsites,” woods and streams on the city’s fringes, contaminated by urban runoff and trash, its trees spotted with carved initials and graffiti. He seems to be saying, as an artist, this is my place, and I love it.
The vid also has an odd interlude, in which Ruby, this time playing the filmmaker, gives impatient and loud direction to his schizophrenic performer, who is off screen, and who invariably fails to understand. The hostility and aggression here stand out. They are the actual feelings that hide beneath the affectless shield of the avant-garde abject.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.
G.R. Christmas/Courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York “Pig Pen” and “Bus” by Sterling Ruby, on view at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea.
Best in Show follows the peregrinations of critic and novelist Linda Yablonsky, author of The Story of Junk, and a front-line chronicler of art-world events and exhibitions.
Art is such a subjective pursuit that the next best thing to living with it may be having it to yourself in public. Sterling Ruby’s “2 Traps,” two new monumental sculptures on view at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea, offer such solitary experience in spades. “Bus” looks at first like a cross between a heavy metal band’s tour vehicle, a prison van outfitted for “Mad Max”-style siege and a nightclub from hell. Actually it is all three – and more.
The bus once belonged to the Los Angeles Police Department, which used it to ferry inmates to and from California prisons. A rock band then acquired it and painted its fiery logos on the exterior. Before Ruby acquired it from the city’s metro transportation system, the bus also did service as a mobile salesroom for stereo sound equipment.
The L.A.-based Ruby, who is 38 and a subscriber to Bus Conversion magazine, made his bus a gothic icon. He put in black vinyl banquettes of the sort common to party limos, and enclosed them behind the kind of security gates used by California homeowners in bad neighborhoods. To complete its transformation as a metaphor for a dark night of the soul, he installed multiple subwoofers and shiny chrome globes, as if it were a traveling disco engulfed in an eerie silence.
“Bus” functions as a metaphor for the suppression and release of personal demons that becomes even more pronounced with “Pig Pen,” the other monster piece in Ruby’s show. Looking like a minimalist structure conceived by Sol LeWitt in a straitjacket, or a live chicken market absent its inhabitants, it is made of 68 locked steel cages that replicate solitary confinement cells in San Quentin. Though hardly a thing of beauty, the work is somehow as sexy as it is forbidding — and best experienced alone.
Followers of Ruby’s work, which includes gloppy but fascinating ceramic vessels, enormously phallic polyurethane stalagmites, minimalist cubes “defaced” by graffiti and photographs painted with red nail polish, may be surprised by the claustrophobic extremes of the “traps.” But Ruby, whom the Times’s Roberta Smith has called “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century,” is nothing if not unpredictable. After all, his last show in New York, “The Masturbators,” was a video installation showing nine male porn stars doing what they do best — and mostly failing at the task. A similar sense of shame, rather than remorse, runs through both “Bus” and “Pig Pen.” Ruby thinks of them as time machines — places that stop time the moment you enter and alter it when you come out. Such rearrangement of the senses is exactly what art delivers — like nothing else.
“Sterling Ruby: 2 Traps” continues through March 20 at PaceWildenstein, 545 West 22nd Street.
An installation about masturbation falls limp.
By Time Out editors Mon Nov 9 2009
Installation view; Photographs: Mark Woods, Courtesy of the artist and Foxy…
Time Out Ratings
Sterling Ruby takes the comparison of contemporary art and onanism to new lengths—eight inches or more—in The Masturbators, an installation featuring nine video projections of naked men jacking off. Each guy stands in the same alcove, its walls covered with peeling paint, and, to stress the relationship between self-gratification and art, each stands in his abject white cube on two towels of contrasting colors, like Minimalist paintings underfoot. The spectacle momentarily shocks, but that sensation quickly shrinks to mild interest as we begin appraising differences in body type and—since the models all work as professional porn actors—manner, from theatrical to affectless: A tattooed, bearded guy stands on tiptoes and pinches his nipple; one with a hairy chest plays with his balls; a third needs to lie down with a magazine. An amplified cacophony of heavy breathing, grunts and wet slapping sounds accompanies the visuals.
Male masturbation in art has a sizable history, going back at least to Vito Acconci’s Seedbed of 1971, so to think of Ruby’s work as transgressive is difficult, especially when similar entertainments are readily available on any computer without parental controls. A gallery handout’s claim that The Masturbators says something meaningful about either masculinity or performance art is merely risible. Yet nearly anywhere we stand in the gallery’s close quarters, our own shadows get cast on the sometimes life-size projections, turning viewers into actively participating voyeurs of a creepily pretentious, deadpan—and deadening—wankfest.—Joseph R. Wolin
Anti Print Poster (in three parts)
23 1/2 × 17 1/2 inches
Edition of 30
Anti Print Poster (in three parts)
16 × 23 inches
Edition of 30
STERLING RUBY AND LUCIO FONTANA
by: Robin Newman
The exhibition of Sterling Ruby and Lucio Fontana currently on view at Andrea Rosen Gallery intertwines the work of two artists, juxtaposing while illuminating their similarities. Ruby is a contemporary artist based in Los Angeles, known for his biomorphic sculptures and graphic paintings as well as collages. Fontana was a Italian-Argentinean artist who founded the Spatialism art movement in New York during the 1940′s, alongside the development of abstract expressionism.
Although separated by time and place, both artists’ works are heavily influenced by their use of bronze and ceramics, and the organic forms and qualities that these materials take on. The exhibition begins with Fontana’s spherical bronze sculpture with a violent cracked down the center, recalling land splitting during an earthquake or a planet cracking in half. This sculpture sits by a smaller ceramic piece that twists and turns as if melting. In the next room we encounter a monolithic bronze sculpture by Ruby with the words “EXCAVATOR DIG SITE” emblazoned on the front. As Fontana’s sculpture recalls land, Ruby’s piece is more literal, creating a kind of archaeological dig site. Dripping in bronze, it looks as if the site has been consumed by molten lava and is as frozen in time as the ruins it was attempting to unearth.
These sculptures are juxtaposed with Fontana’s wall pieces of metal sheets that have been slashed down the middle. They are visceral yet somehow pristine, a perfectly executed cut. Also lining the walls are Ruby’s collages of found objects and paint on cardboard. These pieces recall the landscape of a dirty floor in an artists studio. Seemingly made from the leftovers of other works, they relate to Ruby’s ceramics which make up the second half of the show. The ceramics are at once destructive, while simultaneously allowing for a new creation. As in nature where decomposition feeds growth, and in recycling where trash can be reused, Ruby uses the refuse of failed ceramic attempts to birth a new piece. Broken bowls and shards are layered and glazed over, building a haphazard but complex structure. The works take on a psychological dimension when considering Ruby’s statement that he is destroying his past attempts and “grinding them down” as a way of “releasing a certain guilt” about the failure of the pieces. All the broken pieces collected into a basin feels an apt metaphor for a fragmented psyche. The pieces excavate and monumentalize failure by trying to come to terms with it. While Ruby’s ceramics are born from destruction, Fontana’s seem to be effortlessly slab-like and fluid.
Both artists engage the primeval nature of their materials while using it to create multi-layered works that investigate their modernity and history. The show attempts to unfold the past and bring it into the present. Partnering the historical work of a deceased artist with that of contemporary is an exercise in the archaeology of artistic lineage.
Now – October 15, 2011 at Andrea Rosen Gallery, 525 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011
THE PRINCIPLES OF ETERNITY
by Rachel Corbett Artnet magazine
Sterling Ruby (b. 1972) makes a strong impression. His esthetic is masculine and a little bruised, antisocial and smart, grounded in its materials, and seems completely unpredictable. His varied output includes 18-foot-tall phallic “stalagmites” dripping with seemingly viscous urethane; rough-hewn ceramics with primordial glazes; paintings done with Robitussin-red nail polish or graffiti-like spray-paint; sculptures of smudged and scratched white minimalist forms; bus-sized cages on wheels; and videos of frustrated male pornstars masturbating to no end. For his latest exhibition, Ruby has turned to a classic Goth theme — vampires.
“Sterling Ruby: Vampire,” Sept. 24-Nov. 3, 2011, at Pace Beijing, is an appropriately splashy entrance into what looks like something of a new phase in the Los Angeles-based artist’s career. In the six years since he earned his MFA, Ruby has seen his prices leap to unsustainable levels, has ricocheted between galleries, and has confused some collectors and advisors with his refusal to stick to any one — or even three — mediums.
But now, the painter-sculptor-ceramicist who has been labeled a “rising young star” for years — he turns 40 in January — seems to have hit his stride. He has signed with Pace Gallery, stabilized his market and suddenly looks poised to move from cult hero to a kind of “mid-career” canonization.
“Sterling is the only one who shows signs that he’s going to be on the level of the major artists Pace has shown in the past — or that he could be in 20 years,” said art advisor Lisa Schiff. “There’s a space opening up. Artists like Christopher Wool and Albert Oehlen are starting to move into seniority, so there’s room for the next wave of great artists like him.”
“This has been a particularly hectic year,” said Ruby by phone from his studio in Vernon, Calif., a few days before catching a plane to install his first solo show in China. In 2009, Ruby was one of Pace director-in-waiting Marc Glimcher’s first recruits, and now he’ll be the Beijing outpost’s debut western artist. Luckily, “I tend to make an abundance of work,” he said.
Ruby is also in a two-person exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, in which his ceramics are aptly paired with works by Italian maestro Lucio Fontana, who of course also made ceramics as well as his trademark punctured monochromes. Last year, in a similarly savvy bit of curating, the Xavier Hufkens gallery in Brussels juxtaposed Ruby with Robert Mapplethorpe, another chronicler of elegance and the abject.
In an even bigger consummation, Ruby has recently seen a stream of museum endorsement — traditionally the ultimate arbiter of legacy. Since just last year, his works have been acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Tate Collection, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and seven other major public collections around the world.
But success for the young artist whose market once teetered on the brink of too-much-too-soon has not always looked so probable. Born on a military base in Bitburg, Germany, to a Dutch mother and American father, Ruby has spent most of his life far outside the bounds of the rarified art scene. The family moved around the Netherlands, to Baltimore, and finally settled on a farm about 20 minutes south of York, Penn., because, as Ruby put it, his parents “were hippies who had a subscription to Mother Earth News.” (That also might explain his name, which, he added, “was somewhat difficult as a kid living around a bunch of rednecks.”)
After graduating from an agriculture high school, Ruby spent several years working in construction and “getting very depressed” before having his introduction to the art world. His mother’s friend, a wildlife illustrator, helped him get into the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in Lancaster, an unaccredited college where Ruby learned, predominantly, to draw bowls of fruit and nudes.
His real artistic awakening came with the discovery of Paul Schimmel’s catalogue Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s in the tiny school library. “It was a red herring — I don’t know how it got there,” Ruby said. “I became certain that I was going to wind up in L.A., which seemed like it had more pathology than any other city in America.”
But he got his first break before he ever made it to the coast. He moved to Chicago to finish his degree at the School of the Art Institute, and it was there, at 1R Gallery, that New York dealer Michael Gillespie spotted Ruby’s work. The following year, Gillespie gave the artist his first solo exhibition in the city at his gallery, Foxy Production.
In 2006, not long after Ruby graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, he signed on with Metro Pictures gallery. But the relationship was rumored to be unsteady and they parted ways after two shows. So Ruby bounced back to working exclusively with Foxy Production (where he continues to show today on a project basis).
Then, the following year, Ruby saw a stratospheric surge in his auction prices. A spray-painted canvas, SP28, estimated at $35,000-$45,000 at Phillips de Pury, sold for $260,000. A month later, a print estimated at about $10,000 at Phillips in London went for $62,000.
“He came of age right at the pinnacle of the last decade’s market,” said Schiff. Suddenly, “a lot of people were glomming on, trying to get work out of his studio.” Gillespie remembers that “no one knew him and really no one knew us. But a small group of collectors and other gallerists started coming around. I think it was just the rawness and visceral quality of the work — it just hit you in the gut.”
Schiff stopped recommending Ruby’s work to her clients. Sure, he was popular, and the critics loved him too — that year Roberta Smith wrote in the Times that Ruby was “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century” — but “I couldn’t understand what was going on, and it made me nervous,” Schiff said.
Glimcher said that dealers face a problem of arbitrage when this happens. “If your public market goes above your private market, what are you going to do? Your dealer has to drop prices. Nothing hurts confidence in an artist’s work more than when a gallery has to say, ‘we’re going to drop prices.’”
And the most coveted works seemed to be Ruby’s paintings — not the sculpture or ceramics that had largely defined him thus far. Paintings, as a whole, tend to sell better than other media because they’re considered more livable, but some advisors worried he was becoming too stylistically pigeonholed.
“People are always confused by artists who work in multiple practices,” Glimcher said. “But he doesn’t really care.”
While Ruby’s primary-market prices have risen steadily over the years, he “is very conservative. He has kept his prices low and that’s a consistent trait of artists who, 40 years from now, we still know their names,” Glimcher said, citing Robert Ryman as a model of this kind of long-term prudence.
According to Pace, the majority of Ruby’s works range from $25,000-$150,000, while his large-scale sculptures go for between $250,000 and $500,000. (One dealer said that a larger ceramic work in the Andrea Rosen show is going for $75,000.)
Things seemed to settle down for Ruby in 2009. The economy was faltering, but that may have helped slow any further spikes in his auction prices. That was also the year he signed with Pace and, so far, they seem to be making smart moves. Ruby said he has intentionally held off showing ceramics for a while, maximizing the Fontana exhibition’s impact. “Ceramics are in vogue, without a doubt,” he acknowledged.
And could there be a subject with more mass-market appeal than vampires? “Twilight, True Blood, that Gucci Mane single… everyone wants to be a vampire in some way,” he said, adding that he was happy to play up to the theme, partly selected by Pace Beijing director Leng Lin.
But that’s not to call Ruby a sell-out. “Vampire” is a natural continuation of the anti-jingoistic themes he has long explored. There are 30 extremely large-scale new works, including Old Glory-printed fabric sculptures of lips and fangs; a supersized sheet-metal flag; new spray-painted canvases; a series of five-by-eight-foot bronze Debt basins filled with scraps; and an 18-foot stalagmite in which shades of empire red and blue bleed into black. It’s all housed in Pace Beijing’s perfectly Brutalist 25,000-square-foot old munitions factory.
“Society-conscious art has taken shape and risen in China,” said Leng Lin in an email. “Chinese contemporary art tends toward narrative, while Sterling Ruby’s work emphasizes shape and form. Sterling’s entrance will undoubtedly open eyes and minds and pour new life and energy into a flourishing, society-conscious Chinese contemporary art scene.”
“There’s something drastic about the vampire,” Ruby said. “It’s hyper-sexual, taboo, and there’s the existential scenario of never dying, being faced with the principles of eternity. It seems fitting for the time.”
RACHEL CORBETT is news editor at Artnet Magazine.
Los Angeles, California
July 29, 2012
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)
Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings
- California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.
Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches
Cosmos. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.
Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and posted here.
Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California
Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.
photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.
Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011
Los Angeles, California
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles.