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Jess Johnson: Worlds Within Worlds Ocula Conversation Jess Johnson: Worlds Within Worlds

Geometric patterns, anthropomorphic characters, architectural spatial environments, and relics of the ancient world appear throughout Jess Johnson's artworks.Johnson's solo art-ventures began in drawing, but her long-term collaborative relationship with animator Simon Ward brings her drawings to life in videos and virtual reality. The animator has...

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Melati Suryodarmo: Performance Art as Trigger Ocula Conversation Melati Suryodarmo: Performance Art as Trigger

In 2012, Melati Suryodarmo opened Studio Plesungan in her native Surakarta, also known as Solo, the historic royal capital of the Mataram Empire of Java in Indonesia. Suryodarmo had returned to Indonesia from Germany, where she studied Butoh and choreography with Butoh dancer and choreographer Anzu Furukawa, time-based media with avantgarde...

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Lagos Biennial 2019: Stories from Africa’s most Populous City Ocula Report Lagos Biennial 2019: Stories from Africa’s most Populous City 15 Nov 2019 : Jareh Das for Ocula

Under the direction of Folakunle Oshun, the second edition of the Lagos Biennial (26 October–23 November 2019) includes works by over 40 Lagos-based and international artists, architects, and collectives. Curated by architect Tosin Oshinowo, curator and producer Oyindamola Fakeye, and assistant curator of photography at the Art Institute of...

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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough Ocula Insight | Video
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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough 15 October 2019

Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...

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Sterling Ruby

b. 1972, Germany

Born in 1972 on an American Air Force base in Bitburg, Germany to a Dutch mother and American father, artist Sterling Ruby was always destined to have a unique worldview. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and New Freedom, Pennsylvania, while also spending time in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The latter, known for its Amish population, proved influential in informing a craft aesthetic in his practice. From those beginnings, today he stands as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists.

Ruby attended The Pennsylvania School of Art & Design from 1992 to 1996. However, it was after graduating in 2002 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that Ruby began to develop a dense, layered practice and form a unique visual repertoire. Having worked for the Video Data Bank at the institute, he came into contact with the writings of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida and studied the early videos of artists Paul McCarthy and Bruce Nauman. Another influence is Mike Kelley, whom Ruby worked for as a teaching assistant after completing the Master of Fine Arts program at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles (where he moved in 2003). Today, Ruby works from a vast studio compound in Los Angeles, creating commissioned projects of mammoth proportions for international museums and gallery exhibitions with his studio team. His work is held in prestigious public collections such as the Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; MoMA, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; MoCA, North Miami; MCA Chicago; MoCA, Los Angeles; LACMA, Los Angeles; and SFMOMA, San Francisco. 

Ruby represents a generation of Los Angeles-based artists (along with figures like Wade Guyton, Nate Lowman and Jason Yates) who have set out to examine the legacy of Minimalism and its aftereffects via painting. Unpacking the legacies of predecessors such as Mark Rothko and Morris Louis, these artists have confronted the opposition between abstraction and formalism, asserting a refusal of these parameters. Painting however, is but one element in Ruby’s creative artillery.

Early, lesser-known presentations of his work at Foxy Production in New York signified the artist’s interest in spatial intervention. His 2007 solo show Superoverpass featured a commanding, singular, white, bridge-shaped sculpture that filled the main gallery space. Viewers were forced to negotiate around and under it, drawing attention to its unexpectedly defaced surface, which was scrawled with graffiti. In this way, Ruby assaulted the foundation and expectations surrounding Minimalist traditions. In 2009, his Foxy Production show The Masturbators included a multi-channel video installation focused on the male figure, using porn stars in provocative sexual acts to investigate the constructions of masculinity.

To categorise his diverse, ever-evolving practice to a specific medium, style or topic would be to misrepresent it. At its centre, his accumulative oeuvre to date has aimed to overwhelm and engage his audiences in a variety of means via objects, surfaces and colour. Traversing one media and technique to the next, he is an artist interested in extremes and thrives on the unpredictable. Today, he is most recognised for his eclectic output ranging from poured polyurethane sculptures and drawings made with nail polish, to richly glazed ceramics, large-scale spray-painted canvases, textiles, collages and videos. As the artist himself states, ‘I think of it [my practice] in terms of space, depth, punctuation of colour’. 

In addition to his investigation of materiality, Ruby’s practice demonstrates a desire for philosophical engagement. Aiming to analyse physical and mental boundaries and their abilities to divide, protect and isolate, Ruby’s output is characterised by an attention-grabbing, jarring reflection of reality. Through such polymorphous creativity and indistinction, a world of social stereotypes and visual tropes are enlivened, synthesising dual readings and meaning. Recurring references to national identity and power structures arise emerge in the ambiguity of his familiar yet unfamiliar forms. 

Perhaps Supermax, his 2008 exhibition at MoCA, Los Angeles best exemplified Ruby’s hybrid approaches for audiences. The title of the show referred to the special units of American maximum security prisons where prisoners in solitary confinement are on lockdown for up to 23 hours a day. At once irresistible and grotesque, decorative and critical, his sculptural intervention included enormous phallic polyurethane stalagmites exuding raw expressionistic force. These luscious oozing towers, oscillating between frozen and morph-like states, evinced notions of transience and transference. Juxtaposed against abstract aerosol paintings, collages, soft sculptures in the form of blood or teardrops, and geometric sculptures made of brass, this collective ensemble of media enlivened physical and psychological confinement. Supermax was an important departure from the artist’s earlier engagement with Minimalist art. Such interdisciplinary integration has since become the hallmark of his career.

His ongoing interest in repurposing found materials sustains Ruby’s anarchistic desire to undermine power systems. In his 2010 show 2TRAPS at Pace Gallery in New York, Ruby’s repurposed LA Police Department bus (once used to ferry inmates to and from Californian prisons) was outfitted with solitary confinement cages, speakers and exterior security doors. For a 2016 exhibition at Gagosian in Le Bourget on the outskirts of Paris, Ruby deployed parts of deaccessioned American submarines, giving further weight to the association of such remnants. These reanimated, violently deconstructed fragments—think hulking engine parts, steel pipes and support structures—simultaneously resembled balanced modernist sculptures. Here, the high and low were successfully blended.

Ruby’s recurring interest in the American flag and its constellation of stars also has potent connotations. Symbolising a ‘supernation’, the stars also represent the depths of the unknown, of outer space, astrology, and ancient mythology. In 2014, Ruby explored a nationalistic thread throughout his work in his Flags series, consisting of large-scale wall hangings resembling the American flag. In 2012, Ruby presented the exhibition Soft Work at the Geneva Contemporary Art Center, which later travelled to FRAC Champagne-Ardenne in Reims, France; Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome. The exhibition centred around soft sculpture made from colourful fabric. Various cushioned forms were sewn together and arranged akin to a children’s playroom. However, upon closer inspection, recognisable patterns including the American flag, menacing vampire-like fangs with blood droplets and intestinal-like sausages gave the forms a disconcerting, aggressive edge.

Objects of comfort were also transformed in Ruby’s investigation into the traditions of quilt-making with his bleach collage pieces created in 2011. Repurposing fabric scraps and denim into patchwork collages, these works recall the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Mike Kelley, as well as Ruby’s interest in disciplines such as craft and sewing, not considered part of the contemporary art practice.

As Ruby continues to develop his ambitious artistic output, so too, he consistently challenges the perception of his practice. Surprising audiences with each project, today the question to pose is not, ‘who is Sterling Ruby?’, but rather, what will he do next?

Biography by Rachael Vance | Ocula | 2017
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Featured Artworks

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WIDW. AZURE HAZE. by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyWIDW. AZURE HAZE., 2019 Acrylic, oil, elastic, cardboard, and treated fabric on canvas
213.4 x 121.9 x 5.1 cm
Xavier Hufkens
HEART (6880) by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyHEART (6880), 2018 Ceramic
53.3 x 39 x 5.1 cm
Taka Ishii Gallery
WIDW. SET FIRE by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyWIDW. SET FIRE, 2019 Acrylic, oil, elastic, cardboard on canvas
320 x 243.8 x 5.1 cm
Xavier Hufkens
WIDW. BRASSICA. by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyWIDW. BRASSICA., 2018 Acrylic, oil, and cardboard on canvas
40.6 x 30.5 cm
Taka Ishii Gallery
WIDW. WILDFIRE. by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyWIDW. WILDFIRE., 2018 Acrylic, oil, elastic, cardboard, and treated fabric on canvas
213.4 x 121.9 x 5.1 cm
Xavier Hufkens
DRFTRS (6778) by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyDRFTRS (6778), 2018 collage, paint and glue on paper
68.9 x 110.2 cm
Xavier Hufkens
DRFTRS (6666) by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyDRFTRS (6666) collage, paint and glue on paper
28.6 x 22.2 cm
Xavier Hufkens
WIDW. RED RIFT. by Sterling Ruby contemporary artwork
Sterling RubyWIDW. RED RIFT., 2018 Acrylic, oil, cardboard, and treated fabric on canvas
320 x 243.8 x 5.1 cm
Xavier Hufkens

Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Sterling Ruby, ACTS + TABLE at Gagosian, London
Open Now
2 October–14 December 2019 Sterling Ruby ACTS + TABLE Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, ±8 - A Group Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramics at Taka Ishii Gallery, Hong Kong
Closed
12 July–8 September 2019 Group Exhibition ±8 - A Group Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramics Taka Ishii Gallery, Shop
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Taka Ishii Gallery 25th Anniversary: Survived! at Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo
Closed
25 June–27 July 2019 Group Exhibition Taka Ishii Gallery 25th Anniversary: Survived! Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

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Frieze Week Lowdown: London Shows to See Ocula Report Frieze Week Lowdown: London Shows to See 20 Sep 2019 : Tessa Moldan for Ocula

London's galleries and museums are gearing up for a lively October, with Frieze London and Frieze Masters running between 3 and 6 October 2019 at Regent's Park, along with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, taking place across the same dates at Somerset House; and the tenth anniversary of the Sunday Art Fair, showcasing new and emerging artists...

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Taipei Biennial: Planet Earth Defence Command Ocula Report Taipei Biennial: Planet Earth Defence Command 28 Oct 2014 : Sam Gaskin for Ocula

Like the Earth itself, the debate about what to call the current geological epoch is getting heated. For 11,700 years, since the end of the last ice age, we’ve been living in the Holocene, the temperate climate in which human civilization has thrived. But Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen argues that now mankind has become the most...

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Gwangju Biennale: Burning Down The House Ocula Report Gwangju Biennale: Burning Down The House 4 Oct 2014 : Jeesun Park for Ocula

Gwangju is only the sixth largest city in Korea but its history has become well-known to art audiences around the world through its provocative biennale, now a fixed event in the international art calendar. The Gwangju Biennale began twenty years ago specifically to commemorate the historic fight for democracy that took place in the city, known...

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Finding The Desert In The Desert: The Los Angeles Project At Ucca, Beijing Ocula Report Finding The Desert In The Desert: The Los Angeles Project At Ucca, Beijing 30 Sep 2014 : Robin Peckham for Ocula

Ask a Beijing artist where they would like to spend time abroad living, working, seeing exhibitions, meeting artists and curators, and the answer is invariably New York. Aside from the obvious attractions, New York appears culturally exotic; there seems to be a consensus that Beijing, as an art center and urban environment, operates somehow more...

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In Related Press

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STERLING RUBY IN VIENNA Related Press STERLING RUBY IN VIENNA Gagosian Quarterly : 15 November 2019

Ruby gives shape and body to images that are otherwise virtual and in any case always mediated by electronic devices. The corporal and tactile theme permeates another series of works, crucial in the corpus of work by Ruby, the famous soft sculptures. Giant anthropomorphic figures of which Laying Figure (2013) is possibly the most emblematic within...

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Sterling Ruby: Disjointed Monuments to Nothing Related Press Sterling Ruby: Disjointed Monuments to Nothing Gagosian Quarterly : 30 October 2019

If the laminate pedestals reveal scattered signs of vandalism (such as scratches, scuff marks, inscriptions, and traces of spray paint), the urethane blocks appear almost lyrically pictorial, innervated as they are with colour dyes that seem to have been dripped into the synthetic material and captured permanently mid-descent. If from a visual and...

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Sterling Ruby’s Mixed Media Related Press Sterling Ruby’s Mixed Media The New Yorker : 2 September 2019

Vernon, California, is a small city near Los Angeles with a population of a hundred and twelve. Every day, fifty thousand people commute to work there, in its eighteen hundred factories, warehouses, and small businesses. Light fixtures, Farmer John hot dogs, industrial chemicals, Tapatío hot sauce, and stuffed toys are made in Vernon. One of the...

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Sterling Ruby: Bloody Pots Related Press Sterling Ruby: Bloody Pots Gagosian Quarterly : 1 November 2018

The bloodiest of Sterling Ruby's pots is not ceramic but a teacup of Styrofoam, urethane, wood, and spray paint. Monolithic, The Cup (2013) spilleth over with so much blood that one cannot believe the donor to this event will survive. And given the meanings that have been ascribed to this sculpture, that donor is mankind. Here, the character of...

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In Video & Audio

Sterling Ruby in conversation with Anders Kold Related Video & Audio Sterling Ruby in conversation with Anders Kold Xavier Hufkens : 6 November 2018

Ruby's DRFTRS and WIDW series are two ever-evolving bodies of work that bear witness to the artist's intense relationship with materials and his interest in issues such as sociocultural evolution, popular culture, and violence.

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Sterling Ruby in conversation with Dirk Snauwaert Related Video & Audio Sterling Ruby in conversation with Dirk Snauwaert Xavier Hufkens : 7 September 2015

Sterling Ruby talks with Dirk Snauwaert, artistic director of WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, on the occasion of his exhibitions ECLPSE and SCALES at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.

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