Sterling Ruby: EXHM @ Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row

Hauser & Wirth showcases the first solo exhibition of Los Angeles based artist Sterling Ruby. The exhibition titled ‘EXHM’ (abbreviation for ‘exhumation’) spans the two gallery spaces on Savile Row, North and South.

Ruby’s mixed size works exhibited at the large space of North Gallery utilise an array of media incorporating wood and cardboard combined with less conventional ones such as poured urethane, PVC, spray paint and other materials. These sculptures comprise of colourful monumental structures (‘CDCR’ 2011, ‘THE POT IS HOT’ 2013, “Monument stalagmite/WE LUV STRUGGLIN’” 2013), adjoined with fabric and fiber filled artworks suspended from the ceiling or placed on the floor [‘HUSBANDS + DROPS (4133) 2012, ‘DROPS (4222) 2013, ‘PILE’ (4129) 2012)]. These are surrounded by Ruby’s EXHM series of framed collage and urethane works on cardboard.

The South Gallery contains the centerpiece series of ‘Basin Theology’, circular structures containing ceramic fragments produced in the artist’s studio, all piled up and fossilised after excessive glazing and firing. These are circled by his ‘BC’ fabric mosaic series, created with pieces of rags and installed on black denim canvases while a separate room hosts a parade of -what it appears to be as- soft fabric bleeding vampire mouths.

Ruby’s oeuvre is characterised by an assemblage of disciplines that he gained during the course of his career. While the iconography and semiotics of his work depart from autobiographical references purely emphasising on his American origin and culture involving politics as well as notions of imperialism and decline, he simultaneously pronounces the idiosyncrasy of the American urban culture. The registration of the street gang and graffiti, punk and hip hop culture in his work underlines his keen interest in the exploration of the complexity and trajectory of this particular sector of society. Clear influences from the minimalism of Robert Morris, the political and social references of Rosemarie Trockel, Jenny Holzer’s work on violence, oppression, sexuality, feminism, war and death, and the graffiti style of Lady Pink appear as a vivid amalgamation within Ruby’s artistic territory.

Most of his megalithic sculptures in North Gallery are ‘dressed’ in the white, red and blue of the American flag. The sense of void imbued throughout his works is conceived not only by suspending his soft, Joana Vasconcelos type, biomorphic worn out fabric works upside down but also by the dramatic melting effect that the spray paint and urethane have on selected works. His “Monument stalagmite/WE LUV STRUGGLIN’” (2013) is for me the greatest representative of this show. This 5m. tall formation in relation to its surrounding counterparts is reminiscent of East European ‘Memento Parks’, ghost statue parks with monumental relics, distant reminders of bygone eras. The supporting piece of wood (placed in a similar fashion as in Roman statues) inscribed “WE LUV STRUGGLIN’” is the absolute statement of this decadence and decline in Ruby’s narrative throughout his entire exhibition.

The atmosphere of pessimism, masterfully orchestrated with a dose of dark humour alongside a taste of bitterness, compose an environment of dystopia that the viewer is encouraged to navigate. Ruby’s work has attracted the attention of the international art enthusiasts and despite his relative young age, the mature style of his art is an indication for a promising artist producing thought provoking work that will inspire and influence contemporary art.