Sterling Ruby is a Los Angeles artist working in sculpture, collage, video, and photography, now showing at both Metro Pictures and Foxy Production. I don’t get him—but I want to. His art is too weird, and too fierce, to dismiss.
On a table at Metro lie two ceramic sculptures: a kind of still-life of mortars and pestles, and a mottled human torso, open at the back to expose swirls of color suggesting bodily fluids. Photographs of graffiti line the walls; computer-drawn drops of blood fall through them. Standing tall on the floor are two geometric totems made of PVC piping coated in shiny black urethane that hangs off the structures like frozen black rain. One totem suggests a mesh moon gate on a wooden pedestal spray-painted with graffiti. The same circular form rests on a black cage at the base of the other totem, supporting a big black square turned on the point of a corner.
If these constructions recall heroic steel sculptures by David Smith, “Recondite” is an ode to Fascist monumentality. It’s an enormous stage for a pair of black, Judd-like cubes that rise almost to the ceiling; at the end of a low platform running the length of the room, an amorphous pink-and-red object hangs from the ceiling like a long, thick dripping candle. Over at Foxy Production, Ruby has built a Formica rendition of an L.A. freeway overpass marred by fingerprints and gang graffiti. It looks like a dirty white monolith by Tony Smith.
Ruby has an intriguing love/hate relationship with the minimalists, obsessively measuring himself against them while caricaturing their icons in visceral terms they might abhor. His real argument is with order and containment-—though where he’s taking it, I’m not sure he really knows.