Art Seen: National

STERLING RUBY // HAUSER & WIRTH

by Tara Plath

Sunrise Sunset

I have, until this point, avoided a critical engagement with the work of Sterling Ruby. This was not an intentional action – but more so due to the fact that I had not yet had the opportunity to stand in a room with his work, instead experiencing his massive sculptures and spray-painted canvases as images in books or online. I was right to reserve my opinions and save my energy, because standing in a room with his work struck me down. This should stand true for all exhibitions of this nature, which are increasingly consumed through online platforms and dissociated from their materiality, texture, and scale. Ruby’s exhibition, Sunrise Sunset at Hauser & Wirth through July 25th drives the point home hard: in its enormity, its loudness, and its brazen indifference.

RUBYiv HWNY18 1405 FO view06

Installation view, ‘Sterling Ruby. SUNRISE SUNSET’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2014. © Sterling Ruby. Courtesy Sterling Ruby Studio and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Farzad Owrang

Ruby’s marketability, and his quantifiable rise to stardom, can be justly acknowledged and quickly laid to rest when encountering his work. Inflated sales and sensationalism aside, it is difficult to deny being affected in the presence of his work. Equally undeniable is Ruby’s position as a contemporary male artist making gigantic imposing sculptures. Yes it is big and it is loud – and while he has made past mention of his subversion of ceramics and fibers as “feminine” materials – it is also overtly masculine. However, it is something else as well, not entirely unrelated to man and market: it’s undeniably American.

It does not take his repeated use of stars and stripes to identify the work as American. Plenty of international artists appropriate the American flag for political commentary and pointed critique. Regardless of the red, white, and blue, Sunrise Sunset is dripping in an unnamable U.S. sensibility. Rather than point to the feats or failures of America, the works assume an attitude of near extremism. Sunrise Sunset moves like a colonizing force of imagery and art history, taking no pause to explain its position, and instead inducing an abstract discomfort. It is over the top every step of the way, a superficial celebration that drowns out a sinister history. The objects’ radiate disinterest paralleled by Ruby’s in-fatigable production, which feels nearly ignorant of – yet sustained by – their very market values and popularity.

RUBYS61699

The Cup, 2013. Foam, urethane, wood and spray paint. 233.7 x 293.4 x 223.5 cm / 92 x 115 1/2 x 88 in. © Sterling Ruby. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

A marriage of contemporary excess and historical precedent, Sunrise Sunset walks on hallowed ground and makes an utter mess, subverting ideas of sanctity in Ruby’s sardonic references to American modernists. SCALE/ BATS, BLOCKS, DROP (4837) hangs like Alexander Calder mobile, with dangling geometric forms, and a pail of baseball bats. BC (4844) A and B hang like a readymade Newman “zip” painting, in the form of found striped fabric stretched onto a bleach-washed canvas ground – a bad Gap scarf stands out, plastered on with glue-like-cum over a home-made Shroud of Turin. A Yves Klein Blue moon rises over smaller more concrete clues of Ruby’s personal archeological dig in EXHM (4765) – where small images of excavations, historical sites, archeological digs, and protests are evidence of the exhumation of  family burial grounds, repeatedly collaged onto a dirty cardboard surface.

With its title written in fat graphic letters on the base, The Cup runneth over in camp aesthetics. It beckons viewers with its glossy dripping polyeurathane surface that pools in the belly, a surface of candy-coated carnage that also covers the set of four Romanesque columns nearby. In stark contrast, two Debt Basins are mounted on the walls like over-sized memorabilia. They feel like militant moonscapes littered with scrap reminiscent of chimneys and buildings – dark and gritty.

RUBYiv HWNY18 1405 FO view04

Installation view, ‘Sterling Ruby. SUNRISE SUNSET’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2014. © Sterling Ruby. Courtesy Sterling Ruby Studio and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Farzad Owrang

While much of the works can be reveled in their lush surfaces, uniquely and most disconcerting is Hanging Figures, a pair of stuffed American-flag clad bodies draped over a ceiling pipe, their spaghetti limbs stretched out and over-sized feet resting on the gallery floor. The figures read more like Monkeys in a Barrel than human forms, cartoonishly suspended in their own cloud of claustrophobia. One straddles the other, its hairs of yarn falling onto the head of the figure below. They are embarrassing to look at – the figures are both menacing in size, yet horribly flaccid.

The breadth of treatment given to the materials in this exhibition is somewhat thwarted by a uniformity of scale. The installation feels oddly measured, given the unceremonious application of bleach, glue, and urethane. The static nature of the size throughout the gallery reduces the human body as superfluous, which is echoed in the cold inventory-style of the titles for each piece. Numbers are assigned to nearly all the works, Flag (4791), SP275 (1) and (2), signifying their own small part in a much larger collection of objects that appear to solemnly promise to outlive each person that walks between and below them.

 


––
Sterling Ruby: Sunrise Sunset at Hauser and Wirth runs through July 25, 2014.

Tara Plath is an artist and writer based in New York City. She currently works at Whitebox Art Center. She holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture and a Bachelors of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Comments are closed.