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Sterling Ruby, Acts + Tables

2 October - 14 December 2019

Gagosian Gallery, London

 

Gagosian is pleased to present sculptures by Sterling Ruby at Britannia Street. This is his first solo exhibition with the gallery in London. On view will be works from two series, ACTS (2006–18) and TABLES (2015–19).

In an oeuvre spanning sculpture, ceramics, painting, drawing, collage, video, and garments, Ruby continually returns to themes of societal and art historical friction, generating feelings of anxiety and agitation by contrasting clean lines and recognizable objects with coarse and uncanny forms. ACTS + TABLE lays out Ruby’s critique of the authoritarian, exclusionary ideological underpinnings of Minimalism. He begins with familiar shapes valued by the Minimalists—simple tables and rectilinear blocks—but subverts them by defacing their smooth surfaces and exposing their physical means of production. 

In ACTS—short for “Absolute Contempt for Total Serenity”—Ruby captures liquid dye inside clear urethane and balances these pure prisms atop scuffed, inscribed, and spray-painted Formica bases. These works expand upon his earlier Formica sculptures such as Big Grid/DB Deth (2008), a scratched-up monolith that exudes a cold, prisonlike institutional menace. In ACTS, the juxtaposition of unfeeling laminate slabs against vibrantly pigmented urethane is a potent one; it transforms the urethane from a passive, glassy vitrine into an active agent of incarceration that suffocates the blossoming furls of dye.

The exhibition also includes TABLE (DOUBLE LAST SUPPER) (2019), the culminating work of Ruby’s TABLES, a series that explores the concept of personal and cultural archaeology. In 2015, Ruby moved into a gargantuan studio outside of downtown Los Angeles and salvaged the welding tables left there from the building’s erstwhile function as a manufacturing warehouse. By affixing jutting metal pipes, faucets, and frying pans to the tables and covering them with tumorous masses of solder, Ruby stratifies and memorializes every act of labor that once took place on their surfaces, whether by the hands of workers from the building’s previous life, or of the artist and his studio. The table—whose name and adornments reflect Ruby’s own rural upbringing in a faith-dominant area of Pennsylvania—becomes a hulking, organic archaeological remnant from some unnamed human history.

Sterling Ruby, ACTS/OSIRIS-REx, 2016 (detail)

Clear urethane block, dye, wood, and laminate, 67 × 175 ½ × 35 inches (170.2 × 445.8 × 88.9 cm)
© Sterling Ruby. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

 

Sterling Ruby’s work engages with issues related to autobiography, art history, and the violence and pressures within society. Employing diverse aesthetic strategies and mediums—including sculpture, drawing, collage, ceramics, painting, and video—he examines the tensions between fluidity and stasis, Expressionism and Minimalism, the abject and the pristine.

Born on Bitburg Air Base, Germany, to an American father and a Dutch mother, Ruby moved at a young age to the United States, where he grew up on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. There he encountered Amish quilt-making and Pennsylvania redware pottery, both of which directly inspired his initial forays into garment-making, soft sculpture, and ceramics. Ruby graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, Lancaster, in 1996. He received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002, followed by an MFA from the ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California, in 2005.

Living and working in Los Angeles, Ruby draws endless inspiration from the city’s physical and conceptual landscape. A subseries of the SP paintings (2007–14), the VIVIDS (2014), are electric color fields inspired by the shifting, multihued skies that he encounters on his way to the studio, while the SUBMARINE (2015) and TABLES (2015 –19) series were created from hulking industrial parts sourced nearby. Ruby’s work often deals with the ways in which acts of defacement, like urban demarcation and graffiti, can produce a painterly sublime. Both in his YARD paintings (2015–16) and in his WIDW paintings (2016–), he taps into the speed and motion of collage, incorporating bleached fabric and cardboard scraps and combining abstract color fields with fragments of studio refuse. Continually pushing the boundaries between artistic mediums, Ruby launched a ready-to-wear clothing line in 2019.

Sterling Ruby’s work engages with issues related to autobiography, art history, and the violence and pressures within society. Employing diverse aesthetic strategies and mediums—including sculpture, drawing, collage, ceramics, painting, and video—he examines the tensions between fluidity and stasis, Expressionism and Minimalism, the abject and the pristine.

 

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